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Israel condemns Russian Foreign Minister Lavrov’s comments as anti-Semitic

JERUSALEM – Israeli Prime Minister Naftali Bennett on Monday condemned a recent statement by Russian Foreign Minister Sergey V. Lavrov that Jews were “the biggest anti-Semites”.

The Israeli Foreign Ministry also summoned the Russian ambassador to Israel to explain Mr Lavrov’s remarks, while the Israeli foreign minister, Yair Lapid, demanded an apology.

The setback followed an interview given by Mr Lavrov on Sunday to an Italian TV journalist who asked him why Russia claimed to “de-Nazify” Ukraine when Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky was a Jew. Sir. Lavrov replied that he believed Hitler himself had Jewish roots, a claim rejected by historians, adding: “For a long time now we have heard the wise Jewish people say that the greatest anti-Semites are the Jews themselves.”

Mr. Bennett said he considered Mr. Lavrov’s remarks with “extreme severity”, saying the comments were “untrue and their intentions are wrong.”

Mr. Bennett added, “The purpose of such lies is to accuse the Jews themselves of the most heinous crimes in history, which were committed against them, thereby absolving the enemies of Israel from responsibility.”

Separately, Mr Lapid said Mr Lavrov’s comments were “both an unforgivable and outrageous statement as well as a terrible historical mistake.”

“Jews did not murder themselves in the Holocaust,” he added. “The lowest level of racism against Jews is to accuse the Jews themselves of anti-Semitism.”

The Israeli government’s response is among the harshest criticisms it has leveled at the Russian government since the invasion of Ukraine.

Israel has been involved in a difficult balancing act: supporting Ukraine while trying to avoid a showdown with Russia, which has a large military presence in Syria, Israel’s neighbor. Israel is coordinating with Russia when attacking Iranian, Syrian or Lebanese military targets on Syrian soil, and does not want to unnecessarily shake up its relationship with Moscow. Israel is also concerned about possible casualties for Russian Jews.

In general, Israeli officials are very sensitive to how the Holocaust is invoked by politicians abroad. Sir. Zelensky himself was criticized in Israel when, during a virtual speech to the country’s parliament in March, he compared the suffering of Ukrainians with the suffering of Jews during the Holocaust.

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