Israel has hit out at Russia over “unforgivable” comments by its foreign minister around Nazism and antisemitism – including a claim that Adolf Hitler was Jewish.
Summoning the Russian ambassador in response, Israel said the remarks blamed Jews for their own murder in the Holocaust.
Asked on an Italian news channel about Russian claims it invaded Ukraine to “denazify” the country, Sergey Lavrov said Kyiv could still have Nazi elements even if some figures were Jewish.
“So when they say ‘how can Nazification exist if we’re Jewish?’ in my opinion, Hitler also had Jewish origins, so it doesn’t mean absolutely anything,” he said through Italian translation.
“For some time we have heard from the Jewish people that the biggest antisemites were Jewish.”
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 scandalous and a horrible historical error.”
“The Jews did not murder themselves in the Holocaust,” said Mr Lapid, the son of a Holocaust survivor. “The lowest level of racism against Jews is to blame Jews themselves for antisemitism.”
Prime Minister Naftali 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."
It marked a steep decline in the ties between the two countries at a time when Israel has sought a neutral position between Russia and Ukraine and remain in Moscow’s good stead for its security needs in the Middle East.
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Israel’s Holocaust memorial Yad Vashem called the remarks “absurd, delusional, dangerous and deserving of 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,” it said in a statement.
“Equally serious is calling the Ukrainians in general, and President (Volodymyr) Zelenskyy in particular, Nazis.
“This, among other things, is a complete distortion of the history and an affront to the victims of Nazism.”