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(REUTERS): Israel has chastised Russia and demanded an apology after its foreign minister Sergei Lavrov claimed that German dictator Adolf Hitler had origins, accusing Lavrov of spreading anti-Semitism and belittling the Holocaust.
Lavrov had argued that Ukrainian president Volodymyr Zelensky’s Jewish ancestry did not matter. “So what if Zelensky is Jewish? The fact does not negate the Nazi elements in Ukraine. I believe that Hitler also had Jewish blood,” the Russian minister said during an interview with Italian television.
“Such lies are intended to accuse the Jews themselves of the most horrific crimes in history that were committed against them,” Israeli Prime Minister Naftali Bennett said in a statement. He further said, “The use of the Holocaust of the Jewish people for political purposes must stop immediately.”
Meanwhile, Israeli Foreign Ministry Yair Lapid demanded an apology from Lavrov over his comments and called in the Russian ambassador for “a tough talk” over the assertion.
Lapid said that to claim Hitler was of Jewish descent was like saying Jews had killed themselves, and accusing Jews of being anti-Semites was “the basest level of racism”.
During his interview with Italy’s Rete 4 channel, Lavrov was asked how Russia could say it needed to “denazify” Ukraine, when the country’s president, Volodymyr Zelenskiy, was Jewish.
“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,” Lavrov said, speaking through an Italian interpreter. “For a long time now we’ve been hearing the wise Jewish people say that the biggest anti-Semites are the Jews themselves,” he added.
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 claimed 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, never backed up by any evidence, that he might have been a Jew.
Lapid dismissed Lavrov’s assertion 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.
A German government spokesperson said on Monday that Lavrov’s comment on Hitler was “absurd propaganda”.
Israel has expressed repeated support for Ukraine following the Russian invasion in February. But wary of straining relations with Russia, a powerbroker in neighbouring Syria, it initially avoided direct criticism of Moscow and has not enforced formal sanctions on Russian oligarchs.
However, relations have grown more strained, with Lapid last month accusing Russia of committing war crimes in Ukraine. 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.