Following Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov’s claims that Israel is supporting neo-Nazis in Ukraine, the Israeli Government has now demanded that Lavrov and the rest of the Russian Government apologize immediately. They have also committed to sending more “defensive” weapons to Ukraine.

The Israeli Government demanding an apology from the Russian Government is not surprising. If your people, some 6 million to 11 million Jews, who were brutally murdered and mass executed by Nazis from 1941 to 1945, were accused of supporting neo-Nazis, we’d think that an apology is the least you can do. But of course, these are the Russians, many of which have allegedly committed various war crimes during their invasion of Ukraine. You wouldn’t expect them to apologize.

So what did Lavrov exactly say that got the entire Jewish community outraged? During an interview with Italian television, the presenter asked how Russia could “denazify” Ukraine. This was asked as Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky is, in fact, Jewish, and various members of his family suffered under the Holocaust.

The Russian Foreign Minister answered and said: “So what if Zelensky is Jewish?” he 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 does not mean anything,” he continued.

“For a long time now, we’ve been hearing the wise Jewish people say that the biggest anti-Semites are the Jews themselves.”

Apart from the fact that he accused Zelensky of being a neo-Nazi in the past, he also claimed that Jewish people themselves were against their own and that Hitler, one of the people that history records as a mass murderer had Jewish blood. Yes, the Russians claimed that without any proof. You’d think that they would be more careful with these sentiments as they were already in hot water with the Jewish community when they bombed the Babi Yar in Ukraine.

Lavrov would continue to blame the Jews for the Holocaust and that they were responsible for the most “terrible crimes in history” committed against them.

Russian President Vladimir Putin and Sergey Lavrov attending the "Keeping the memory of the Holocaust, fighting anti-Semitism" forum in 2020 (Kremlin.ru, CC BY 4.0 , via Wikimedia Commons). Source: https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Remembering_the_Holocaust._Fighting_Antisemitism_forum_(2020-01-23)_02.jpg
Russian President Vladimir Putin and Sergey Lavrov attending the “Keeping the memory of the Holocaust, fighting anti-Semitism” forum in 2020 (Kremlin.ruCC BY 4.0, via Wikimedia Commons)

The Israeli Prime Minister Naftali Bennett weighed in on the matter and was noticeably timid. He said that this type of rhetoric must stop immediately as the Russians were using Jewish people and the Holocaust to score “political points.”

“The aim of such lies is to blame the Jews themselves for the most terrible crimes in history that were committed against them, thus freeing from responsibility the oppressors of Israel,” the Israeli Prime Minister said.

He also took a shot at Zelensky for comparing the Ukrainian war to the Holocaust, where he reiterated that there was “no current war” that was similar to the Jewish experience during the Holocaust.

An enraged Israel embodied through Israeli Foreign Minister Yair Lapid summoned their Russian ambassador Anatoly Viktorov and demanded an apology, to which they would engage in some “tough talk.” Lapid’s grandfather died in the Holocaust, thus being the root of the more straightforward language. He dismissed Russian claims that the Ukrainians were neo-Nazis.

The Ukrainians aren’t Nazis. Only the Nazis were Nazis, and only they dealt with the systematic destruction of the Jewish people,” he said.

The Foreign Minister would reiterate that the Jews did, in fact, not murder themselves during the Holocaust and that Lavrov’s comments were “unforgivable and scandalous and a horrible historical error.”

“The lowest level of racism against Jews is to blame Jews themselves for anti-Semitism.”

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“We are making every effort to maintain good relations with Russia, but there is a line, and this time the line has been crossed. The Russian government must apologize to us and to the Jewish people,” he added.

The German Government, which has an anti-Semitism commissioner for those of you who are new to the German government, said that the remarks were insulting to the victims of Nazism and that it “shamelessly confront not only Jews but the entire international public with open anti-Semitism.”

Zelensky, during his nightly video messages, said that Russia has been unusually silent ever since the comments came out. “This means that the Russian leadership has forgotten all the lessons of World War Two,” and proceeded to assert that “Or perhaps they have never learned those lessons.”

Ukrainian Foreign Minister Dymytro Kuleba also aired his thoughts out to the public on Twitter, directly addressing Lavrov by name.

“FM Lavrov could not help hiding the deeply-rooted antisemitism of the Russian elites. His heinous remarks are offensive to President @ZelenskyyUa, Ukraine, Israel, and the Jewish people. More broadly, they demonstrate that today’s Russia is full of hatred towards other nations.”

Israel, which has been supporting Ukraine along with other allies, decided to ramp up military support to Kyiv following the Russian remarks. Israeli officials said they would be sending “plenty of items” to Kyiv, which were more defensive in nature. No air-defense systems and advanced weaponry would be sent. They also emphasized that the increase in aid would be more “symbolic” and would not be in “substantial quantities.”

In the past, Israel has provided some help to Ukraine by providing a field hospital in Lviv and ambulances, and other non-military items. Israel is playing it safe as Russia is notably a key player in Syria, where the IDF is launching strikes on Hezbollah and Iranian targets. As a result, the two countries have a “deconfliction mechanism” to prevent them from accidentally clashing one another. With the renewed strain on their diplomatic relationship, only time will tell if Israel will fully change its stance on Russia.

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