Russian President Vladimir Putin issued an apology to Israel on Thursday for remarks made by Russia's top diplomat on Sunday claiming Adolf Hitler had "Jewish origins."
Israeli Prime Minister Naftali Bennett accepted Putin's apology during a phone call, which was intended to ease diplomatic tensions that had flared up between the two nations in recent days over the Hilter comments and comes as Israel celebrates its 74th Independence Day.
"I believe that relations between Russia and Israel, based on the principles of friendship and mutual respect, will continue to develop for the benefit of our people and in order to strengthen peace and security in the Middle East," Putin said in a letter to Israeli President Isaac Herzog, congratulating him on Israel's Independence Day, per Haaretz.
Bennett demanded an apology from Russia after Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov made the claim about Hitler having "Jewish origins." Lavrov's remark was intended to justify the Kremlin's insistence that it is seeking to "de-Nazify" Ukraine despite Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky being Jewish.
ISRAEL RIPS RUSSIA FOR REMARKS ON HITLER'S 'JEWISH ORIGINS'
“So when they say, ‘How can Nazification exist if we’re Jewish?’ In my opinion, Hitler also had Jewish origins, so it doesn’t mean absolutely anything,” Lavrov said in an interview with an Italian television channel on Sunday, per the Associated Press. “For some time, we have heard from the Jewish people that the biggest antisemites were Jewish.”
The diplomatic hiccup was worsened on Wednesday when Maria Zakharova, a spokeswoman for the Russian Foreign Ministry, told a Russian state-run news outlet, "Israeli mercenaries are practically shoulder to shoulder with Azov militants in Ukraine," the Times of Israel reported.
The Azov Battalion is a special operations unit in Ukraine accused of harboring members with ties to neo-Nazi ideology. Russia has frequently singled out the battalion while trying to paint Ukraine as a morally bankrupt nation rife with Nazi influence.
Top Israeli officials such as Herzog reacted with outrage to the remarks.
“At first, I couldn’t believe that they had been uttered by a Russian foreign minister. They made me angry and disgusted. During a week when we are remembering the Holocaust, of all weeks, the Russian Foreign Minister Lavrov chooses to spread lies, terrible lies, which smell of antisemitism. I expect him to retract his words and apologize,” Herzog told Haaretz Wednesday before Putin's apology.
Other countries such as Germany roundly denounced the comments from the Russian diplomats. Ukrainian officials sought to use the opportunity to put distance between Israel and Russia. Dmytro Kuleba, Ukraine's minister of foreign affairs, blasted Lavrov's comments as being representative of "deeply rooted antisemitism of the Russian elites." Kuleba also extended his congratulations to his Israeli counterpart on Thursday for the nation's Independence Day.
Spoke with @yairlapid to greet him on Israel Independence Day. Thanked him for the humanitarian aid and support of Ukraine in UNGA. He assured me that Israel will stand by Ukraine during and after this war, including by preventing sanctions evasion and helping to rebuild Ukraine.— Dmytro Kuleba (@DmytroKuleba) May 5, 2022
Israel has maintained friendly relations with both Ukraine and Russia despite the two nations being at war. While other developed nations in Europe and elsewhere have levied harsh sanctions on Russia over its bloody invasion, Israel has been slow to enact economic sanctions of its own but has helped Western nations enforce their sanctions on Moscow.
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In addition, Israel has reportedly refrained from providing Ukraine with military support, including its state-of-the-art Iron Dome missile defense technology. In March, Zelensky took a swipe at Israel for its inaction. "You can mediate between nations but not between good and bad,” Zelensky said, the New York Post reported.