Israel hits out at Russia over Lavrov’s remarks on Nazism

Israel has denounced Russia for its foreign minister’s “unforgivable” comments on Nazism and anti-Semitism – including claims that Adolf Hitler was Jewish.

Israel, which summoned the Russian ambassador in response, said the remarks blamed Jews for their own murder during the Holocaust.

It was a sharp deterioration in ties between the two countries at a time when Israel sought to establish a neutral stance between Russia and Ukraine and to remain in Russia’s rightful place for its security needs in the Middle East.

Asked about Russia’s efforts to “denazify” Ukraine in an interview with an Italian news channel, Sergei Lavrov explained that Ukraine may still have Nazi elements even though some personalities, including the country’s president , were Jewish.

“Hitler also had Jewish background, so that doesn’t mean anything,” he said, speaking to the station in Russian, dubbed with an Italian translation.

In some of the harshest remarks since the start of the war in Ukraine, Israeli Foreign Minister Yair Lapid called Mr Lavrov’s statement “unforgivable and outrageous and a horrific historical error”.

“Jews did not kill themselves in the Holocaust,” Mr. Lapid said.

“The lowest level of racism against Jews is blaming Jews themselves for anti-Semitism.”

Israel’s Holocaust memorial, Yad Vashem, called the remarks “absurd, delusional, dangerous and deserving of condemnation.”

“Lavrov propagates Holocaust inversion – turning victims into criminals based on the promotion of a completely unfounded claim that Hitler was of Jewish descent,” he said in a statement.

“It is equally serious to call Ukrainians in general, and President (Volodymyr) Zelensky in particular, Nazis. This, among other things, is a complete distortion of history and an affront to the victims of Nazism.

Nazism figured prominently in Russia’s war aims and narrative as it fights in Ukraine.

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky’s relatives were killed in the Holocaust (Efrem Lukatsky/AP)

In his attempt to legitimize the war with Russian citizens, President Vladimir Putin described the battle as a struggle against the Nazis in Ukraine, even though the country has a democratically elected government and a Jewish president whose relatives were killed during the war. ‘Holocaust.

Ukraine also condemned Mr. Lavrov’s remarks.

“In trying to rewrite history, Moscow is simply looking for arguments to justify the massacres of Ukrainians,” tweeted Ukrainian presidential adviser Mykhailo Podolyak.

World War II, in which the Soviet Union lost around 27 million people and helped defeat Nazi Germany, is one of the pillars of Russia’s national identity.

Repeatedly reaching for the historical narrative that places Russia as a savior against the forces of evil has helped the Kremlin rally Russians around the war.

For Israel, the Holocaust is central to its national ethos and it has positioned itself at the center of global efforts to remember the Holocaust and combat anti-Semitism.

But these objectives sometimes clash with its other national interests.

People walk along a bridge lit by a billboard showing a yellow Star of David that reads
People walk along a bridge lit by a billboard showing a yellow Star of David, like the one Jews were forced to wear in Nazi Germany, on the annual Holocaust Remembrance Day in Ramat Gan, Israel on April 28 (Oded Balilty/AP)

Russia has a military presence in neighboring Syria, and Israel, which carries out frequent strikes on enemy targets in the country, relies on Russia for security coordination there.

This has forced Israel to be cautious in its criticism of the war in Ukraine.

While it has sent humanitarian aid to Ukraine and expressed support for its people, Israel has been measured in its criticism of Russia and has not adhered to international sanctions against it.

This paved the way for Prime Minister Naftali Bennett to attempt to mediate between the parties, an effort that appears to have stalled as Israel grapples with its own internal turmoil.

The Holocaust and the constant manipulation of its history during the conflict have already sparked outrage in Israel.

In a speech to Israeli lawmakers in March, Mr. Zelensky compared Russia’s invasion of his country to the actions of Nazi Germany, accusing Mr. Putin of trying to implement a “final solution” against the ‘Ukraine.

The comparisons drew furious condemnation from Yad Vashem, which said Mr Zelensky was trivializing the Holocaust.

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