Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov’s suggestion that Nazi dictator Adolf Hitler had ‘Jewish blood’ could test Israel’s neutrality over war in Ukraine as Western allies rush to arm Ukrainian forces with new weapons for the next phase of the conflict.
“Israel should immediately change its policy of delivering arms to Ukraine,” Czech Deputy Defense Minister Tomas Kopecny said. Washington Examiner. “I hope they will change their policy and be much more active, in Israel, through deliveries of weapons systems.”
Israeli officials tread carefully throughout the war, creating a kind of proxy war between Israel’s closest ally and Russia, which has a substantial military presence in neighboring Syria. Israel’s need to target Iranian supply lines in Syria has given the Kremlin some leverage over the most powerful military in the Middle East, but Lavrov’s latest effort to portray Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky as a Nazi crossed a rhetorical red line for Israeli Prime Minister Naftali Bennett.
“I take the Russian foreign minister’s statement with the utmost severity,” Bennett said Monday. “His words are false and their intentions are false. The purpose of such lies is to accuse the Jews themselves of the most horrific crimes in history, which have been perpetrated against them, and thus to absolve Israel’s enemies of all responsibility.
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Russian President Vladimir Putin called the Russian assault on Ukraine a campaign to ‘demilitarize and denazify’ Ukraine, although he also denounced the formation of the Ukrainian state as an offense against ‘historic destiny’ of the former Russian Empire. Zelensky, a Ukrainian of Jewish descent who won a landslide victory in the 2019 presidential elections, dismissed those allegations from the early days of the war in part by citing his family background — a defense Lavrov tried to overcome in an interview with an Italian media.
“His argument is: how can there be Nazism in Ukraine if he is Jewish?” Lavrov said, according to a Russian Foreign Ministry translation. “I could be wrong, but Adolf Hitler also had Jewish blood. It means absolutely nothing. The wise Jewish people say that the most ardent anti-Semites are usually Jews. “Every family has its black sheep”, as they say.
Israeli Foreign Minister Yair Lapid was quick to denounce the comment as an “unforgivable and outrageous statement as well as a terrible historical error” as another senior Israeli Foreign Ministry official submitted the Russian ambassador Anatoly Viktorov has a lick about these remarks.
“Jews didn’t kill themselves in the Holocaust,” Lapid said. “The lowest level of racism against Jews is to accuse Jews themselves of anti-Semitism.”
Zelensky addressed the controversy later Monday, raising the question of whether that anger portends a substantial shift in Israel’s approach to war.
“Such an anti-Semitic push from their minister means that Russia has forgotten all the lessons of World War II,” he said. “Or maybe they never studied those lessons. So the question is: will the Israeli ambassador stay in Moscow knowing his new position? Will relations with Russia remain as usual? Because it’s not accidental. The words of the Russian Minister of Foreign Affairs, “great connoisseur of Hitlerism”, are not accidental”.
Bennett tried to position himself for a peacemaking role, an effort that at least diplomatically accounted for Israel’s reluctance to confront Russia in this crisis. Some local media reports foresee the possibility of Israel changing course, but Western officials are controlling their expectations, at least for now.
“We are not holding our breath waiting for Israel to change its policy on a specific issue,” a Baltic official said.
Kopecny gave a different note, arguing that Israel’s cutting-edge defense industry could bring valuable improvements to Ukraine’s military. “They can deliver a lot and especially in their latest technology,” the Czech deputy defense minister said.
If Lavrov’s remarks do not provoke an “immediate” and overt act of retaliation, the Baltic official admitted, the public relations fiasco could backfire in favor of Ukraine in the coming weeks.
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“That can be an additional element because Israel’s politics are not static, like with other countries,” the official said. “It develops – with the pressure, with the changing mood in society. … It will be difficult to determine whether the next shift and nuance in Israeli policy will be because of this or because of other issues.