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Russian foreign minister Sergei Lavrov. Picture: SPUTNIK//REUTERS
Russian foreign minister Sergei Lavrov. Picture: SPUTNIK//REUTERS

Israel denounced Russian foreign minister Sergei Lavrov on Monday for suggesting that Adolf Hitler had Jewish origins, accusing Lavrov of spreading anti-Semitism and belittling the Holocaust.

“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.

“The use of the Holocaust of the Jewish people for political purposes must stop immediately,” he added.

Israeli foreign minister Yair Lapid demanded an apology from Lavrov over his comments, which were made on Sunday in an interview with Italian television, 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”.

There was no immediate comment from the Russian embassy or Lavrov himself.

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 Zelensky, 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, chair of Yad Vashem, Israel’s memorial to the 6-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 said 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, whose grandfather died in the Holocaust.

A German government spokesperson said on Monday that Lavrov’s comment on Hitler was “absurd” propaganda.

Israel has expressed repeated support for Ukraine after the Russian invasion in February. But wary of straining relations with Russia, a power broker in neighbouring Syria, it initially avoided direct criticism of Moscow and has not enforced formal sanctions on Russian oligarchs.

But relations have grown more strained, with Lapid in April accusing Russia of committing war crimes in Ukraine.

However, the Ukrainian president has also run into flak in Israel by looking to draw analogies between the conflict in his country and World War 2. In an address to the Israeli parliament in March, Zelensky compared the Russian offensive in Ukraine to Nazi Germany’s plan to murder all Jews within its reach during World War 2.

Yad Vashem called his comments “irresponsible”, saying they trivialised the historical facts of the Holocaust.

Reuters

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