Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov’s suggestion that Nazi dictator Adolf Hitler had “Jewish blood” could test Israel’s neutrality with respect to the war in Ukraine as Western allies race to arm Ukrainian forces with new weaponry for the next phase of the conflict.
“Israel should change immediately its policy towards delivering weapons to Ukraine,” Czech Deputy Defense Minister Tomas Kopecny told the Washington Examiner. “I hope that they will change the policy and be much more active, in Israel, through deliveries of weapons systems.”
Israeli officials have trodden carefully throughout the war, which has created a sort 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 view with utmost severity the Russian foreign minister’s statement,” Bennett said Monday. “His words are untrue and their intentions are wrong. The goal of such lies is to accuse the Jews themselves of the most awful crimes in history, which were perpetrated against them, and thereby absolve Israel’s enemies of responsibility.”
SCHUMER SLAMS 'SICKENING' COMMENTS FROM RUSSIAN FOREIGN MINISTER AS ANTISEMITIC
Russian President Vladimir Putin characterized the Russian onslaught in Ukraine as a campaign for the “demilitarization and denazification” of Ukraine, even as he also denounced the formation of the Ukrainian state as an offense against “the historical destiny” of the late Russian empire. Zelensky, a Ukrainian of Jewish descent who won a landslide victory in the 2019 presidential elections, has dismissed these allegations from the earliest days of the war in part by invoking his family background — a defense that Lavrov attempted to overcome in an interview with an Italian media outlet.
“His argument is: How can there be Nazism in Ukraine if he is a Jew?” Lavrov said, per a Russian Foreign Ministry translation. “I may be mistaken, but Adolf Hitler had Jewish blood, too. This means absolutely nothing. The wise Jewish people say that the most ardent antisemites are usually Jews. ‘Every family has its black sheep,’ as we say.”
Israeli Foreign Minister Yair Lapid hastened to denounce that comment as an “unforgivable and outrageous statement as well as a terrible historical error” as another senior Israeli Foreign Ministry official subjected Russian Ambassador Anatoly Viktorov to a tongue-lashing over the remarks.
“Jews did not murder themselves in the Holocaust,” Lapid said. “The lowest level of racism against Jews is to accuse Jews themselves of antisemitism.”
Zelensky addressed the controversy later Monday, raising the question of whether that anger portends any substantive shift in Israel’s approach to the war.
“Such an antisemitic thrust by their minister means 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 their new position? Will relations with Russia remain as usual? Because it's not accidental. The words of the Russian foreign minister, a ‘great connoisseur of Hitlerism,’ are not accidental.”
Bennett has tried to position himself for a peacemaker role, an effort that at least gave a diplomatic account for Israel’s hesitance to confront Russia in this crisis. Some local media reports allow for the possibility that Israel might change course, but Western officials are keeping their expectations in check, at least for now.
“We’re not holding our breath waiting for Israel to change policy on some specific issue,” one Baltic official said.
Kopecny struck a different note, arguing that Israel’s cutting-edge defense industry could provide valuable upgrades to Ukraine’s military. “They can deliver a lot of stuff and especially in their latest technologies,” the Czech deputy defense minister said.
If Lavrov’s remarks fail to provoke an “immediate” and overt act of retaliation, the Baltic official allowed, the public relations fiasco could redound to Ukraine’s benefit in the weeks to come.
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“It can be an additional element because Israel's policy is not static, the same as with other countries,” the official said. “It’s developing — with pressure, with the change of mood in the society. ... It will be difficult to determine if the next change and nuance in Israeli policy will be because of this or because of some other issues.”