Israel has slammed Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov over “unforgivable” comments about Nazism and anti-Jewism – including suggestions that Adolf Hitler had Jewish roots – and demanded an apology from Moscow.
Summoning the Russian ambassador on Monday for “clarifications”, Israel said the remarks blamed Jews for their own murder in the Holocaust.
Israel has sought to walk a fine line between Moscow and Kyiv since Russia invaded Ukraine on February 24. Moscow describes its actions as a “special military operation” and says it wants to “de-militarise” and “denazify” Ukraine.
While Israel has sent humanitarian aid to Ukraine and expressed support for its people, the government has been measured in its criticism of Russia and has not joined international sanctions against it.
That paved the way for Prime Minister Naftali Bennett to be able to try to mediate between the sides, an effort which appears to have stalled as Israel deals with its own internal unrest.
But the remarks by Lavrov to an Italian channel sparked anger in Israel.
Asked in an interview released on Sunday about Russian claims that it wants to “denazify” Ukraine, Lavrov said Kyiv could still have Nazi elements even if some figures, including the country’s president, were Jewish.
Lavrov then added, speaking to the station in Russian, dubbed over by an Italian translation: “I could be wrong, but Hitler also had Jewish blood.”
There was no immediate comment from the Russian embassy.
Israeli Foreign Minister Yair Lapid called Lavrov’s statement “unforgivable and scandalous and a horrible historical error”.
“Jews did not murder themselves in the Holocaust. The lowest level of racism against Jews is to accuse Jews themselves of antisemitism [anti-Jewism],” he said.
Bennett, who has been more measured in his criticism of Russia’s invasion, also condemned Lavrov’s comments.
“His words are untrue and their intentions are wrong,” he said. “Using the Holocaust of the Jewish people as a political tool must cease immediately.”
Yad Vashem, the World Holocaust Remembrance Center in Israel, also criticised Lavrov’s statement, calling them “unfounded, delusional and dangerous remarks which deserve to be condemned”.
In a speech at the end of March to the Israeli parliament, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy called on Israel to “make a choice” by supporting Ukraine against Russia, and asked the Jewish state to provide it with weapons.
Israel has provided helmets and bulletproof vests to Ukrainian rescue workers, but has not recently supplied the country with weapons, Israeli officials have said.
Nazism has featured prominently in Russia’s war aims and narrative as it fights in Ukraine.
In his bid to legitimise the war to Russian citizens, President Vladimir Putin has portrayed the battle as a struggle against Nazis in Ukraine, even though the country has a democratically elected government and a Jewish president whose relatives were killed in the Holocaust.
Putin referenced the presence of units such as the Azov battalion within the Ukrainian military as one of the reasons for launching his so-called “special military operation”.
Azov is a far-right all-volunteer infantry military unit founded in 2014 to fight pro-Russian separatists in the Donbas region of eastern Ukraine. Its early members were ultranationalists and accused of harbouring neo-Nazi and white supremacist ideology. The unit has since been incorporated into the National Guard of Ukraine.
Ukraine also condemned Lavrov’s remarks.
“By trying to rewrite history, Moscow is simply looking for arguments to justify the mass murders of Ukrainians,” Ukrainian presidential adviser Mykhailo Podolyak wrote in a tweet.
#Lavrov's direct anti-Semitic statements, accusations of Jews of the WWII and the Holocaust are the evidence of Russia being a successor to Nazi ideology.
By trying to rewrite history, Moscow is simply looking for arguments to justify the mass murders of Ukrainians. (1/2)
— Михайло Подоляк (@Podolyak_M) May 2, 2022
In a speech to Israeli legislators in March, Zelenskyy compared Russia’s invasion of his country with the actions of Nazi Germany, accusing Putin of trying to carry out a “final solution” against Ukraine.
The comparisons drew an angry condemnation from Yad Vashem, which said Zelenskyy was trivialising the Holocaust.