Appearing on the Italian television program Zona Bianca, Sergei Lavrov was answering a question about how Russia can claim to be “de-nazifying” Ukraine, when that country’s president is Jewish.
That is when the minister dropped the bombshell, indirectly blaming the Jews themselves for the Holocaust in which six million Jews were exterminated in World War II death camps.
“I could be wrong,” Lavrov began, “but Hitler also had Jewish blood. That Zelensky is Jewish means absolutely nothing. Wise Jewish people say that the most ardent anti-Semites are usually Jews.”
Israelis were furious. Only a few days earlier, Israel had marked Holocaust Remembrance Day – one of the most solemn dates on the country’s calendar. Israeli Foreign Minister Yair Lapid expressed his anger.
“Foreign Minister Lavrov’s remarks are both an unforgivable and outrageous statement as well as a terrible historical error,” Lapid posted on Twitter. “Jews did not murder themselves in the Holocaust. The lowest level of racism against Jews is to accuse Jews themselves of antisemitism.”
Russia’s Foreign Ministry aggressively defended Lavrov’s untrue assertion. In a statement, the Ministry called Lapid’s comments “anti-historical,” adding that Lapid’s statement would explain “why the current Israeli government supports the neo-Nazi regime in Kyiv”.
The Ministry repeated Lavrov’s comment that Volodymyr Zelenskiy being Jewish did not prevent Ukraine from being run by neo-Nazis. “Antisemitism in everyday life and in politics is not stopped [in Ukraine] and is, on the contrary, nurtured,” the Foreign Ministry added.
Israeli Prime Minister Naftali Bennett also reacted angrily. Bennett has walked a diplomatic tightrope during Russia’s invasion of Ukraine. While Israel has supported Ukraine in its fight to maintain its independence, it has stopped short of condemning Russia for the invasion.
Ukriane: A Changed Approach
The reasons behind this are twofold. First of all, Russia has a sizable military presence in the border regions of Syria, one of Israel’s greatest foes. The Israel Defense Forces regularly coordinate with Russian military forces in Syria when striking military targets there, so as to not cause an undue rift with Moscow.
Second, Israel has a sizable Russian-Jewish population, and it does not want to alienate that segment of its population. The Israeli government has refused to enforce sanctions against Russian oligarchs. Things began to change some last month, however, when Lapid accused Russia of war crimes. Bennett’s comments mark a further shift in Israel’s approach.
“Lies like these are meant to blame the Jews themselves for the most terrible crimes in history, which were committed against them, and thus free the oppressors of the Jews from their responsibility,” he said.
“As I’ve already said, no war today is the Holocaust nor is it like the Holocaust,” Bennett added. “The use of the Holocaust of the Jewish people as a political battering ram must be stopped immediately.”
American Secretary of State Antony Blinken took to Twitter and said his “friend Yair Lapid put it perfectly.”
“It is incumbent on the world to speak out against such vile, dangerous rhetoric and support our Ukrainian partners in the face of the Kremlin’s vicious assault,” Blinken posted.
Steve Balestrieri is a 1945 National Security Columnist. He has served as a US Army Special Forces NCO and Warrant Officer before injuries forced his early separation. In addition to writing for 19fortyfive.com, he has covered the NFL for PatsFans.com for more than 10 years and his work was regularly featured in the Millbury-Sutton Chronicle and Grafton News newspapers in Massachusetts.