Israel has denounced comments by Russian foreign minister Sergei Lavrov and demanded an apology after he suggested that Adolf Hitler had Jewish roots.
Lavrov made the remark when challenged by an Italian TV station over his claim that Russia is ‘de-Nazifying’ Ukraine, by pointing out that President Zelensky is Jewish.
‘I think that Hitler also had Jewish origins, so it means nothing,’ Lavrov said. ‘For a long time now we’ve been hearing the wise Jewish people say that the biggest anti-Semites are the Jews themselves.’
Yair Lapid, Israel’s foreign minister, today branded the remark ‘scandalous’ and said the Russian ambassador would be summoned for a ‘tough talk’.
‘It is an unforgivable, scandalous statement, a terrible historical mistake, and we expect an apology,’ Lapid told the YNet news website.
Israel has expressed repeated support for Ukraine but has been less-vocal than Western nations in denouncing Russia’s actions.
The government has tried to avoid direct criticism of Moscow and has not enforced any sanctions on Russian oligarchs.
That is thought to be because Russia is a power-player in neighbouring Syria, where Israel has been fighting against Iranian-backed militias.
Lapid has been among the more outspoken members of Israel’s government over the war in Ukraine.
Last month, he accused Russia of committing war crimes and agreed to supply helmets and vests to Ukrainian rescue services.
Dani Dayan, chairman of Yad Vashem, Israel’s memorial to the six million Jews killed in the Holocaust, said the Russian minister’s remarks were ‘an insult and a severe blow to the victims of the real Nazism’.
Speaking on Kan radio, Dayan said Lavrov was spreading ‘an anti-Semitic conspiracy theory with no basis in fact’.
The identity of one of Hitler’s grandfathers is not known but there has been some speculation – without evidence – that he might have been a Jew.
Lapid added that accusing Jews of being anti-Semites themselves was ‘the lowest level of racism’.
He also dismissed Lavrov’s claim that pro-Nazi elements held sway over the Ukrainian government and military.
‘The Ukrainians aren’t Nazis. Only the Nazis were Nazis and only they dealt with the systematic destruction of the Jewish people,’ said Lapid, whose grandfather died in the Holocaust.
The Ukrainian president has also run into flak in Israel by looking to draw analogies between the conflict in his country and World War Two.
In an address to the Israeli parliament in March, Zelenskiy compared the Russian offensive in Ukraine to Nazi Germany’s extermination of European Jewry during World War Two.
Yad Vashem called his comments ‘irresponsible,’ saying they trivialised the historical facts of the Holocaust.
During Israel’s annual Holocaust memorial day last week, Prime Minister Naftali Bennett appeared to be referencing Zelensky when he urged world leaders not to compare current events to the Nazi genocide.
‘I take the trouble to say this because as the years go by, there is more and more discourse in the world that compares other events to the Holocaust,’ he said.
‘But no. Even the most difficult wars today are not the Holocaust and are not comparable to the Holocaust,’ he said.