Israel demands apology after Russia says Hitler had Jewish roots

  • Zelenskiy accuses Russia of having forgotten the Second World War
  • Israel summons Russian ambassador for ‘tough talk’
  • Germany, Italy and Canada denounce Lavrov’s remarks

JERUSALEM, May 2 (Reuters) – Israel on Monday slammed Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov for claiming Adolf Hitler was of Jewish origin, saying it was an “unforgivable” lie that degraded the horrors of the Nazi Holocaust.

The leaders of several Western countries denounced the foreign minister’s remarks and Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy accused Russia of having forgotten the lessons of the Second World War.

Sign of a sharp deterioration in relations with Moscow, the Israeli Foreign Ministry summoned the Russian ambassador and asked him to apologize.

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“These lies are aimed at blaming the Jews themselves for the most horrific crimes in history that have been committed against them,” Israeli Prime Minister Naftali Bennett said in a statement.

“The use of the Holocaust of the Jewish people for political purposes must stop immediately,” he added.

Lavrov made the claim on Italian television on Sunday when asked why Russia said it had to “denazify” Ukraine if the country’s own president, Volodymyr Zelenskiy, was himself Jewish.

“When they say, ‘What kind of Nazification is it if we’re Jews,’ well I think Hitler also had Jewish backgrounds, so that doesn’t mean anything,” Lavrov told the Rete 4 channel, s’ speaking through an Italian interpreter.

“For a long time we have heard Jewish sages say that the greatest anti-Semites are the Jews themselves,” he added.

Zelenskiy, in his nightly video message, noted that Moscow has been quiet since Lavrov’s comments. “It means the Russian leadership has forgotten all the lessons of World War II,” he said. “Or maybe they never learned those lessons.” Read more

US Secretary of State Anthony Blinken later weighed his Russian counterpart’s comments saying it “is incumbent upon the world to speak out against such vile and dangerous rhetoric”.

Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov attends a joint news conference with Eritrean Foreign Minister Osman Saleh (not pictured) following their talks in Moscow, Russia April 27, 2022. Yuri Kochetkov/Pool via REUTERS/File photo

The German government’s anti-Semitism commissioner, Felix Klein, said Lavrov’s remarks mocked the victims of Nazism and “unabashedly confronted not only Jews but the entire international public with outright anti-Semitism.” Read more

Italian Prime Minister Mario Draghi called the top Russian diplomat’s comments obscene, while Canadian Justin Trudeau expressed disbelief.

Dani Dayan, president of Yad Vashem, Israel’s memorial to the 6 million Jews killed in the Holocaust, said the Russian minister was spreading “an anti-Semitic conspiracy theory without any factual basis”.

The identity of one of Hitler’s grandfathers is not known, but there has been speculation, never supported by any evidence, that he may have been Jewish.

There was no immediate response to requests for comment from the Russian Embassy in Israel or from Lavrov in Moscow.

Israeli Foreign Minister Yair Lapid, whose grandfather died in the Holocaust, said accusing Jews of being anti-Semitic was “the lowest level of racism”. He rejected Lavrov’s claim that pro-Nazi elements dominated the Ukrainian government and military.

“Ukrainians are not Nazis. Only Nazis were Nazis and only they dealt with the systematic destruction of the Jewish people,” Lapid told the YNet news site.

Israel expressed its support for Ukraine after the Russian invasion in February. But wary of strained relations with Russia, a power broker in neighboring Syria, he initially avoided outright criticism of Moscow and did not apply formal sanctions to Russian oligarchs.

However, relations have become more strained, with Lapid last month accusing Russia of committing war crimes in Ukraine.

The Ukrainian president has also faced criticism in Israel for seeking to draw analogies between the conflict in his country and the Second World War. In a speech to the Israeli parliament in March, Zelenskiy compared the Russian offensive in Ukraine to Nazi Germany’s plan to murder all Jews within its reach during World War II. Read more

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Additional reporting by Dan Williams in Jerusalem, Valentina Za in Milan and Pavel Polityuk and Oleksandr Kozhukhar in Ukraine; Doina Chiacu in Washington; Written by Crispian Balmer; Editing by Jeffrey Heller, Bernadette Baum, Richard Pullin and Lincoln Feast

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