Tensions between Russia and Israel that began with Kremlin claims that Adolf Hitler was part Jewish intensified Tuesday when Russia highlighted the large number of neo-Nazis fighting on the Ukrainian side of the conflict. While there are, in fact, large groups of neo-Nazis fighting for Ukraine, tying Israel to these groups is a bit of a stretch.
Russian foreign minister Sergei Lavrov made the first assertion in an interview Sunday, causing outrage as Israel summoned the Russian ambassador and demanded an apology. The rift deepened Tuesday when Moscow said that Israel is supporting a neo-Nazi state in Ukraine. This came in the Russian Foreign Ministry’s response to Lapid’s condemnation of Lavrov’s statement. The Kremlin said the condemnation “largely explains the course of the current Israeli government in supporting the neo-Nazi regime in Kiev.”
Russia has not been very good at the old “winning friends and influencing people” thing lately.
Lavrov appeared on an Italian TV program and was asked how his country can claim to be “de-Nazifying” Ukraine when its president, Volodymyr Zelenskyy, is Jewish. Lavrov responded by saying he “could be wrong, but Hitler also had Jewish blood.”
He then added that Zelenskyy being Jewish “means absolutely nothing” and that the president uses his Jewish roots to cover for neo-Nazis.
Israel has largely remained neutral since the invasion of Ukraine, though it has issued condemnations of Moscow’s unprovoked invasion. The Middle Eastern state has a recent history of cooperation with Russia, particularly concerning Syria. Sunday’s statement, however, prompted a caustic response from Israeli Foreign Minister Yair Lapid, who called it “unforgivable and scandalous.”
Lapid angrily declared that the Jewish people “did not murder themselves” during the Holocaust and charged that the Kremlin stooped to the “lowest level of racism.” Zelenskyy addressed Lavrov’s comments in his nightly video address Sunday, asserting that “Russia has forgotten all the lessons of World War II” or “never studied them” to begin with.
Western leaders, including U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken, condemned the Kremlin’s statements as “vile, dangerous rhetoric.” Italian Prime Minister Mario Draghi sharply criticized the interviewer for not reacting to Lavrov’s neo-Nazi claims.
Moscow continues to double down on its ridiculous excuse that the invasion is meant to root out Nazi elements in the country and protect Russian-speaking Ukrainians from genocide. These assertions are roundly dismissed by global leaders as baseless and false. These fresh absurdities just make President Vladimir Putin and his authoritarian state more of an international pariah.