Russian president Vladimir Putin has apologized after his foreign minister claimed Adolf Hitler “had Jewish blood,” Israel’s prime minister said.
Naftali Bennett said on Thursday he had accepted the apology during a call with Mr Putin and thanked him for “clarifying his regard for the Jewish people and the memory of the Holocaust”.
Sergei Lavrov made the remarks in an interview on the Italian TV program Zona Bianca on Sunday in an attempt to justify Russia’s portrayal of Ukraine as “Nazi.”
Asked how Moscow can claim that it is fighting to “de-Nazify” Ukraine when president Volodymyr Zelensky is himself Jewish, Mr Lavrov said: “I could be wrong, but Hitler also had Jewish blood. [That Zelensky is Jewish] means absolutely nothing. Wise Jewish people say that the most ardent anti-Semites are usually Jews.”
The comments prompted Israel’s foreign ministry to summon Russia’s ambassador for “clarification” and demand an apology.
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Mr Bennett said at the time: “Such lies are meant to blame the Jews themselves for the most terrible crimes in history and thus free the oppressors of the Jews from their responsibility.
“No war today is the Holocaust or is like the Holocaust.”
Israel’s foreign minister Yair Lapid called Mr Lavrov’s words “unforgivable” and “the lowest level of racism against Jews,” hile his Ukrainian counterpart Dmytro Kubleba said they were evidence of Russia’s own “deep-rooted anti-Semitism”.
Russia subsequently hit out at Israel, with Moscow’s foreign ministry describing Mr Lapid’s comments as “anti-historical” and accusing the Israeli government of supporting “the neo-Nazi regime in Kyiv”.
Israel has largely avoided direct criticism of the Russian invasion of Ukraine, although Mr Bennett last month accused Putin’s forces of war crimes.
Following a call with the Mr Putin on Thursday, Mr Bennett said he asked the Russian president to consider allowing the evacuation of the besieged Azovstal steelworks in the Ukrainian port of Mariupol.
He said the request was made following an earlier conversation with Mr Zelensky and that Mr Putin promised to set up a corridor for civilian evacuation.
It follows reports from Mariupol’s mayor that fighting has continued around the sprawling plant in Ukraine’s besieged southern port city.
The vast structure is the last stronghold of the Ukrainian defense forces in the region and an estimated 200 civilians are said to be taking shelter there underground from the Russian bombardment. Another 100,000 are thought to still be inside Mariupol as a whole.
Some 2,000 Ukrainian fighters, by the Russians’ estimate in recent weeks, are also thought to be holed up in the tunnels and bunkers under the steelworks in Mariupol.
Captain Sviatoslav Palamar, who as deputy commander of Ukraine’s Azov Regiment led defenders inside the mill, told Ukrainian Channel 24 that Russian troops were inside the plant for a third day and were meeting fierce resistance.
“Heavy fighting is underway,” he said.
In a video posted online late Wednesday, Anton Gerashchenko, an adviser to Ukraine’s Internal Affairs Ministry, said the Russians managed to get inside with the help of an electrician who knew the layout.“He showed them the underground tunnels which are leading to the factory ,” Mr Gerashchenko said.
“Yesterday, the Russians started storming these tunnels, using the information they received from the betrayer.”
Moscow denied its troops were storming the plant.
George Holan is chief editor at Plainsmen Post and has articles published in many notable publications in the last decade.