Russia’s foreign minister has been criticised for claiming Adolf Hitler “had Jewish origins” and “some of the worst antisemites are Jews”.
Sergei Lavrov hit out at Ukraine’s president during an interview with Italian media, saying Volodymyr Zelenskyy’s Jewish ancestry “doesn’t mean anything” while trying to justify Vladimir Putin’s call to “denazify” the nation.
When Russia invaded Ukraine in February, President Putin described it as a “special military operation” to remove leaders he claimed were neo-Nazis.
Israel has called Mr Lavrov’s remarks “unforgiveable” and summoned Russia’s ambassador for an explanation.
Speaking through an interpreter, Mr Lavrov told Italian media: “So what if Zelenskyy is Jewish? The fact does not negate the Nazi elements in Ukraine.
“Hitler also had Jewish origins, so it doesn’t mean anything. Some of the worst antisemites are Jews.”
Israeli foreign minister Yair Lapid said the comments were “scandalous and a horrible historical error”.
He added: “The Jews did not murder themselves in the Holocaust. The lowest level of racism against Jews is to blame Jews themselves for antisemitism.”
Israel has tried to hold a position of neutrality during the war and has been measured in its criticism of Russia, who it relies on for security coordination in the Middle East.
Prime Minister Naftali Bennett has also tried mediating between Russia and Ukraine.
In his bid to legitimise the war to Russian citizens, President Putin has portrayed the battle as a struggle against Nazis in Ukraine, even though the country has a democratically-elected government and a Jewish president whose relatives were killed in the Holocaust.
Just hours into the invasion, Mr Putin appealed directly to Ukrainian troops and said it was “easier to negotiate with you” than the “gang of Nazis that has captured Kyiv”.
In February, Mr Lavrov said “we will do everything possible to ensure that the Ukrainian government is independent”, adding: “At the moment it is under external control with the aim to support or encourage Nazi philosophy and it is under Western control.”