Bennett to Lavrov: Stop using Holocaust as political battering ram

Foreign Ministry summons Russian ambassador over Lavrov’s claim Hitler was Jewish, comparison to Zelensky.

 FOREIGN MINISTER Yair Lapid and his Russian counterpart, Sergei Lavrov, meet in Moscow last month.  (photo credit: ALEXANDER NEMENOV/POOL VIA REUTERS)
FOREIGN MINISTER Yair Lapid and his Russian counterpart, Sergei Lavrov, meet in Moscow last month.
(photo credit: ALEXANDER NEMENOV/POOL VIA REUTERS)

In his most explicit condemnation of a Russian official since the war on Ukraine began, Prime Minister Naftali Bennett spoke out against Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov’s claim that Hitler was part Jewish.

Asked in an interview with Italy’s Rete 4 on Sunday how Russia could be “denazifying” Ukraine if its president Volodymyr Zelensky is Jewish, Lavrov said: "When they say 'What sort of nazification is this if we are Jews', well I think that Hitler also had Jewish origins, so it means nothing.”

"For a long time now we've been hearing the wise Jewish people say that the biggest antisemites are the Jews themselves," he added.

Bennett said on Monday that “lies like these are meant to blame the Jews themselves for the most terrible crimes in history, which were committed against them, and thus free the oppressors of the Jews from their responsibility.”

“As I’ve already said, no war today is the Holocaust nor is it like the Holocaust,” Bennett stated. “The use of the Holocaust of the Jewish people as a political battering ram must be stopped immediately."

 Russian president Vladimir Putin and foreign minister Sergei Lavrov attend the Libya summit in Berlin, Germany, January 19, 2020 (credit: HANNIBAL HANSCHKE/REUTERS) Russian president Vladimir Putin and foreign minister Sergei Lavrov attend the Libya summit in Berlin, Germany, January 19, 2020 (credit: HANNIBAL HANSCHKE/REUTERS)

The remarks, which named the Russian foreign minister explicitly, are the first of its kind the prime minister has made since Russia invaded Ukraine in late February. Bennett has not condemned Russia, though Foreign Minister Yair Lapid has repeatedly done so and Israel has voted against Russia in the UN.

For example, when the mass civilian casualties in Bucha came to light, Bennett said he was “shocked” and “the suffering of Ukrainian citizens is huge,” but stopped short of accusing Russia of war crimes. Officials in Jerusalem have cited military coordination with Russia in Syria and his attempts to negotiate between Zelensky and Russian President Vladimir Putin as reasons for his relative silence.

Lapid said that Lavrov’s remarks were “unforgivable and outrageous, and a terrible historic mistake.”

“The Jews did not murder themselves in the Holocaust,” Lapid said. “The basest level of racism against Jews is to blame the Jews themselves for antisemitism.”

The Foreign Ministry summoned Russian Ambassador to Israel Anatoly Viktorov after Lavrov’s remarks.

Viktorov met with Foreign Ministry Deputy Director-General for Eurasia Gary Koren, who clarified Israel’s stance.

The sides agreed that they would not speak about the matter publicly anymore, a diplomatic source said.

Yad Vashem chairman Dani Dayan said of Lavrov’s comments, “The remarks of Russian FM Lavrov are absurd, dangerous and deserving condemnation.

“Lavrov is propagating the inversion of the Holocaust – turning the victims into the criminals on the basis of promoting a completely unfounded claim that Hitler was of Jewish descent,” Dayan stated. “Equally serious is calling the Ukrainians in general, and President Zelensky in particular, Nazis. This, among other things, is a complete distortion of the history and a serious affront to the victims of Nazism.”

Ukrainian Foreign Minister Dmytro Kuleba tweeted that Lavrov could not hide “the deeply-rooted antisemitism of the Russian elites. His heinous remarks are offensive to President Zelensky, Ukraine, Israel and the Jewish people. More broadly, they demonstrate that today’s Russia is full of hatred toward other nations.”

Rome’s Jewish community president Ruth Dureghello called Lavrov’s statement “dangerous and delusional,” adding that his remarks “rewrite history in a similar way to The Protocols of the Elders of Zion – the foundation of modern antisemitic literature created in Tsarist Russia.”

Dureghello said, “The most serious problem we have with Lavrov’s statements is that it occurred on Italian television, without contradiction and even without the interviewer opposing the historical truth to the lies that had been uttered. This is not acceptable and cannot be passed over in silence.”

Russia has claimed that its invasion of Ukraine in February aimed to “denazify” the country.

“Zelensky can promote peace between the states if he stops giving orders to his Nazi forces,” Lavrov said in the interview.

“Nazi forces” likely refers to the Azov Battalion of Ukraine’s National Guard defending Mariupol. The battalion grew out of a neo-Nazi group and still has extremist leadership and members, and uses the Wolfsangel insignia used by Waffen-SS and Wehrmacht divisions during World War II. At the same time, there are members of the Azov Battalion of all backgrounds, including Jewish Ukrainians.

The Azov Battalion, which Russia has used to paint Ukraine as a country in need of “denazification,” has roughly 1,000 members, while there were 245,000 active Ukrainian military personnel at the outset of the war with Russia this year, and millions of adult males were required to remain in the country to help in the war effort.

Lavrov also remarked that the upcoming anniversary of Russia’s liberation at the end of World War II will have no bearing on Moscow’s military operations in Ukraine.

“Our soldiers won’t base their actions on a specific date,” Lavrov said when asked whether the May 9 anniversary would mark a turning point in the conflict.

“We’ll commemorate our victory in a solemn manner but the timing and speed of what is happening in Ukraine will hinge on the need to minimize risks for civilians and Russian soldiers,” he added, speaking in Russian through an Italian interpreter.

Reuters and Jerusalem Post Staff contributed to this report.