Jair Bolsonaro’s remarks directly contradicted information on the Yad Vashem remembrance centre’s website, which explains how Germany’s Nazi movement emerged from radical right-wing groups responding to the rise of communism.
In televised comments, the Brazilian president echoed previous remarks by his country’s foreign minister, Ernesto Araujo, who had also claimed the Nazis were leftists.
Asked by reporters if he agreed, Mr Bolsonaro replied: “There is no doubt, right?”
He went on to suggest the fact Adolf Hitler’s party was named the National Socialist Party illustrated its left-wing origins.
Despite their name, the Nazis espoused a fascist and explicitly anti-communist ideology. They are widely accepted to have been on the far right of the political spectrum.
Yad Vashem’s website states that Germany’s defeat in the First World War “created fertile soil for the growth of radical right-wing groups in Germany, spawning entities such as the Nazi Party”.
The centre in Jerusalem documents the Holocaust and is a memorial to the six million Jews murdered by Nazi Germany during the Second World War.
Mr Bolsonaro visisted Yad Vashem on Tuesday during a four-day trip to Israel.
Israel’s prime minister, Benjamin Netanyahu, has embraced Mr Bolsonaro despite his Brazilian counterpart repeatedly airing racist, homophobic and misogynist views.
Mr Bolsonaro’s visit had initially been seen as a potential boost to Mr Netanyahu’s prospects in elections next week, but the trip fell short of fulfilling the Israeli prime minister’s expressed hope that Brazil would move its embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem.
The Brazilian leader had suggested soon after his inauguration in January that he would move the embassy, but his government later backtracked. Brazilian officials instead announced during his Israel visit that the country would open a trade office in Jerusalem.
Mr Netanyahu has said he hopes the trade office is a step towards moving the embassy relocating to Jerusalem.
US president Donald Trump, who Mr Bolsonaro regards as an ally and kindred spirit, recognised Jerusalem as Israel’s capital in 2017 and ordered the American embassy to be moved from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem in the face of international outcry.
Israelis and Arabs dispute the status of Jerusalem, which is holy to Jews, Christians and Muslims. Israel regards the city as its “eternal and indivisible” capital but that is not recognised internationally, and Palestinians want East Jerusalem to be the capital of an eventual Palestinian state.
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