Itsraeli Prime Minister Naftali Bennett said he accepted an apology from Russian President Vladimir Putin on Thursday for controversial remarks about the Holocaust made by Moscow’s top diplomat.
Talking over the telephone, Putin apologized to Israel. Russian officials did not apologize for the conversation. They instead stated they wanted to emphasize the importance of commemorating the Nazi loss in World War II. Russia will celebrate this on Monday.
Bennett emerged as a potential mediator between Russia and Ukraine shortly after Moscow’s invasion. However, this role was put into question by comments made by Sergey Lavrov (Russian Foreign Minister) about the Holocaust. These remarks were highly offensive to Jews.
Asked in an interview with an Italian news channel about Russian claims that it invaded Ukraine to “denazify” the country, Lavrov said that Ukraine could still have Nazi elements even though its president, Volodymyr Zelenskyy, is Jewish.
“In my opinion, Hitler also had Jewish origins, so it doesn’t mean absolutely anything. For some time we have heard from the Jewish people that the biggest antisemites were Jewish,” he said, speaking to the station in Russian, dubbed over by an Italian translation.
Israeli Foreign Minister Yair Lapid, who has harshly criticized Russia over the invasion, called Lavrov’s statement “unforgivable and scandalous and a horrible historical error.”
“The Jews did not murder themselves in the Holocaust,” said Lapid, the son of a Holocaust survivor. “The lowest level of racism against Jews is to blame Jews themselves for antisemitism.”
He requested that Russia be excused and Israel summoned Russia’s ambassador to protest.
Bennett, who has been more measured in his criticism of Russia’s invasion, also condemned Lavrov’s comments. Putin apologized, Bennett said on Thursday.
“The Prime Minister accepted President Putin’s apology for Lavrov’s remarks and thanked him for clarifying the President’s attitude towards the Jewish people and the memory of the Holocaust,” Bennett’s office said in a statement.
Evoking Russia’s deeply-rooted narrative of suffering and heroism in World War II, Putin has portrayed the war in Ukraine as a struggle against Nazis, even though it has a democratically elected government and a Jewish president whose relatives were killed in the Holocaust.
Israel gained independence in the wake of the Holocaust and has served as a refuge for the world’s Jews. The Holocaust and its remembrance remain central to Israel’s national identity, and the country marked its annual Holocaust memorial day last week. During World War II 6 million Jews were murdered by Nazism and their compatriots.
Israel tried to keep ties with Russia even though the conflict. This is partly because Russia maintains a significant military presence in Syria. Israel regularly strikes Iranian targets. Moscow and Israel cooperate in Syria’s actions to prevent conflict.
This allowed Bennett to attempt to broker the differences in Ukraine. He seems to have resumed that role this week.
Bennett’s office said he and Putin discussed plans to evacuate civilians from a besieged steel plant in the port city of Mariupol in southern Ukraine. This was after Bennett called Zelenskyy Wednesday.
The statement from Bennett said Putin “promised to allow the evacuation of civilians, including wounded civilians, through a U.N. and Red Cross humanitarian corridor.”
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