The Foreign Ministry on Tuesday criticized statements made recently by Belarus President Alexander Lukashenko, in which he said the world “bows” to the Jews.
The ministry said the comments were “unacceptable” and that Gary Koren, deputy director-general for Eurasia and the Western Balkans, had summoned the chargé d’affaires at the Belarus embassy in Israel for a meeting to discuss the incident.
In a speech Saturday about raising awareness of Nazi war crimes against Belarusian citizens, Lukashenko said his country’s people should follow the example of “the Jews,” who got the world to “bow before them.”
“I have already said that we began to do this, investigating the crimes of Nazism on the Belarusian land. This is akin to the Belarusian Holocaust, or the Holocaust of the Belarusian people. The Jews were able to prove it. The whole world today bows before them, they are even afraid to point a finger at them, and we are so tolerant, so kind, we did not want to offend anyone,” he said.
Lukashenko, an authoritarian leader who last year faced widespread protests by pro-democracy demonstrators, made the remarks in a speech at the Mound of Glory memorial complex outside Minsk, which commemorates Soviet soldiers who fought during World War II.
In the speech, timed to Belarus’ independence day, Lukashenko warned against revisionism of World War II history but did not say who is behind these attempts.
The Belarus Embassy in Israel responded to the Israeli media coverage of Lukashenko comments saying the reports were “distorted” and “nothing to do with reality.”
In a statement, the embassy said that Lukashenko was comparing, but not equating, the suffering of Belarus during the war with that of Jews during the Holocaust, and noted that hundreds of thousands of Jews were also killed in the country.
The embassy further explained that Lukashenko was setting Israel’s efforts in memorializing the Holocaust as “an example for Belarusians [of] the colossal and successful work of the Jewish state in preserving historical truth and memory, including in the international arena.”
“The noble purpose of this work – to perpetuate the memory of the victims of the Holocaust and to prevent any attempts to deny it – is beyond question,” the embassy said in the statement.
The Nazis killed about 3 million civilians in Belarus, including about 800,000 Jews.
Public expressions of antisemitism are rare in Belarus, but the country saw an uptick in online antisemitic rhetoric in 2018, after a Jewish businessman opened a restaurant on the edge of a mass grave of non-Jewish victims of the Soviet secret police.