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Russia lashes out at Israel as rift over Holocaust and Ukraine widens

·Senior White House Correspondent
·4-min read
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The Kremlin escalated its rhetorical dispute with Israel over World War II history on Tuesday morning by reiterating and expanding on the falsehood-riddled comments made by Russia's foreign minister, Sergey Lavrov, about the supposed collaboration of Jews during the Holocaust with their own Nazi killers.

In a post titled “On Antisemitism,” published on the Telegram social media network, Russia’s foreign ministry tried to equate Israel's support for Ukraine with Jews whom it alleged collaborated with Nazis in World War II, arguing (incorrectly) that history “is unfortunately familiar with tragic examples of Jewish-Nazi collaboration.”

It went on to accuse the current regime in Kyiv — headed by Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky, who is Jewish — of precisely such complicity, while insisting to Israel that it was the Red Army “that stopped the Holocaust and the destruction of the Jewish world.”

The post went so far as to suggest that Israel, which has not played a prominent role in supporting Ukraine in its war effort, may be too naive to realize that after “canceling” Russians, the Ukrainian leadership will inevitably move against the nation’s Jewish population.

Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov, in front of the miscrophone, stares fixedly at an interlocutor (not seen) at a conference table.
Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov at a meeting in Moscow on April 27. (Russian Foreign Ministry/Handout/Anadolu Agency via Getty Images)

It was a remarkable turn of events, considering that when the war began, Israeli Prime Minister Naftali Bennett sought to broker a ceasefire between Russia and Ukraine. Slow to help at first, Israel offered Ukraine material support late last month. If that support has been more limited than that of European nations and the United States, that is largely because Israel’s precarious geopolitical status leaves it little room to maneuver between allies and foes.

Still, it is not entirely clear why the Kremlin has decided to invoke one of the most controversial and misunderstood aspects of World War II history as a means of persuading Israel — and, presumably, other nations — that it was right to invade Ukraine. Such an attempt may have been inevitable, given that Russia’s initial rationale for attacking its much smaller neighbor was a need to “de-Nazify” Ukrainian leadership.

Lavrov offered his own thoughts on the matter on Sunday, telling an Italian outlet,“Wise Jewish people say that the most ardent antisemites are usually Jews.” He also repeated the debunked claim that the Nazi dictator, Adolf Hitler, was partly Jewish.

Having just commemorated the Holocaust the previous week, Israeli leadership vigorously denounced Lavrov’s remarks. “Foreign Minister Lavrov’s remarks are both an unforgivable and outrageous statement as well as a terrible historical error,” Lavrov’s counterpart, Israeli foreign minister Yair Lapid, wrote on Twitter. “Jews did not murder themselves in the Holocaust. The lowest level of racism against Jews is to accuse Jews themselves of antisemitism.”

Israeli Foreign Minister Yair Lapid at a podium beside the Israeli flag, with Ministry of Foreign Affairs printed on the wall behind him.
Israeli Foreign Minister Yair Lapid holds a press conference on the question of Ukraine at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs in Jerusalem on April 24, 2022. (Israeli Gov't Press Office (GPO/Anadolu Agency via Getty Images)

Despite the fact that there is little evidence that Lavrov’s argument — or any other Russian justification for the Ukraine invasion — has gained any traction, Russia’s foreign ministry decided to post a lengthy exposition on Telegram that called Lapid’s statement “anti-historical” and repeated Lavrov’s claim that European Jews were responsible for their own destruction.

The Russian foreign ministry charged Zelensky with “consciously” abetting Ukrainian neo-Nazis, comparing him to Jewish leaders during World War II who may have been aware of some aspects of the Holocaust but who chose to say nothing. Zelensky, on the other hand, is helping neo-Nazis “quite voluntarily,” the Telegram post said.

Russia's claims about complicity with the Nazis fail to reflect what the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum calls “impossible moral dilemmas” faced by Jewish leaders in Eastern European ghettos, from which hundreds of thousands of Jews were deported to the death camps of German-occupied Poland.

The Nazis kept secret their plans for the Holocaust, telling Jews that they were merely being “resettled.” Rumors of the death camps did reach the ghettos, where Jews were housed in inhumane conditions, but many refused to believe them.

Even as the Russian foreign ministry proffered its arguments about Jewish-Nazi collaboration, it acknowledged — in the same Telegram post — that any such collaboration on the part of Jewish leaders was, in the words of three leading Israeli historians, a “marginal phenomenon.”

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