© Reuters. FILE PHOTO: Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov attends a joint news conference with Eritrean Foreign Minister Osman Saleh (not pictured) following their talks in Moscow, Russia April 27, 2022. Yuri Kochetkov/Pool via REUTERS/File Photo
By Crispian Balmer
JERUSALEM (Reuters) -Israel denounced Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov on Monday for suggesting that the Nazi leader Adolf Hitler had Jewish origins, saying his comments were anti-Semitic and dangerous.
Israeli Foreign Ministry Yair Lapid said the Russian ambassador would be summoned for “a tough talk” over the assertion, which Lavrov made on Sunday in an interview with Italian television.
“It is an unforgivable, scandalous statement, a terrible historical mistake, and we expect an apology,” Lapid told the YNet news website.
There was no immediate comment from the Russian embassy.
During an 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 Zelenskiy, 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.
Israel has expressed repeated support for Ukraine. But wary of straining relations with Russia, a powerbroker in neighbouring Syria, it initially avoided direct criticism of Moscow and has not enforced formal sanctions on Russian oligarchs.
Last month, Lapid accused Russia of committing war crimes in Ukraine, and Israel agreed to supply helmets and vests to Ukrainian rescue services, signalling a shift in its position on providing such equipment.
Dani Dayan, chairman of Yad Vashem, Israel’s memorial to the six 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 said that to claim Hitler was of Jewish descent was like saying Jews had killed themselves, adding that accusing Jews of being anti-Semites was “the lowest level of racism”.
He also dismissed Lavrov’s claim 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.
The Ukrainian president has also run into flak in Israel by looking to draw analogies between the conflict in his country and World War Two.
In an address to the Israeli parliament in March, Zelenskiy compared the Russian offensive in Ukraine to Nazi Germany’s extermination of European Jewry during World War Two.
Yad Vashem called his comments “irresponsible,” saying they trivialised the historical facts of the Holocaust.