Foreign Minister Yair Lapid said that Russia’s ambassador to Israel, Anatoly Viktorov, was subjected to a “tough conversation” after being summoned Monday over incendiary comments Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov made about the Holocaust.
Speaking to Israeli public radio on Tuesday morning, Lapid declined to elaborate further, noting that diplomatic custom is that “if you summon an ambassador, you don’t publicize the details of the conversation.” Lapid said that Israeli diplomats in Moscow “throughout the fighting in Ukraine have been summoned more than once by the Russian Foreign Ministry, and they don’t detail the conversation — that’s the protocol.”
Nevertheless, Lapid, said, “you can assume — it would be a justified assumption — that it was a very tough conversation with the ambassador here, since it is unforgivable, unforgivable to blame Jews for their own Holocaust. Hitler was not Jewish and Jews did not murder my grandfather in Mauthausen. The Nazis did it, and all of these comparisons to the Nazis are unforgivable and infuriating.”
In comments to an Italian news outlet on Sunday, the Russian foreign minister said: “So what if [Ukrainian President Volodymyr] Zelensky is Jewish. The fact does not negate the Nazi elements in Ukraine. I believe that Hitler also had Jewish blood,” Lavrov said, adding that “some of the worst antisemites are Jews.”
Lavrov’s comments were roundly condemned in Israel, and on Monday Lapid called them “unforgivable and scandalous” and called on Russia to apologize. Prime Minister Naftali Bennett said that “the aim of such lies is to blame the Jews themselves for the most terrible crimes in history that were committed against them, thus freeing the oppressors of Israel from responsibility.”
The Foreign Ministry said Monday that Israel’s message “was made clear” in the “clarification conversation” with Russia’s ambassador.
On Tuesday, Lapid reiterated his anger at Lavrov’s words and again called on Moscow to apologize.
“I think the Russian government needs to apologize to the Jews, to the memory of those who were killed. It was a horrific statement,” Lapid told Kan public radio. He suggested that Lavrov “read a history book” instead of spreading false “antisemitic rumors.”
The foreign minister said he did not “rule out” the possibility that Lavrov’s comments were made in response to Lapid’s own statements accusing Russia of war crimes amid its ongoing invasion of Ukraine.
“The Russians raised their voice against the entire world, because at the end of the day, the sanctions are closing in on them and also due to the fact that this is an unjustified war. It was clear from day one,” Lapid said.
But, he noted, Israel is balancing both its national security interests and its values in speaking out against Russia’s actions.
“Like all democracies, we think that the Russian invasion of Ukraine is unjustified and must end and we say this, and also vote [that way] in international bodies when necessary.”
Lapid said that Israel is always on the lookout to safeguard its interests in Syria, where Russia has a strong military presence, “but nobody can tell us that we can’t take a moral stance on global issues, just as we expect people to take a moral stance when Israel is attacked.”
Lapid also responded to a Haaretz report on Tuesday claiming that Israel is weighing expanding its military assistance to Ukraine.
“We are aiding Ukraine, we are discussing it — including with our closest ally, the United States — and have been since day one,” the foreign minister said. “The entire world is learning as we go how to deal with this war, and Israel is reviewing our stance all the time.”
After weeks of declining to supply Ukraine with military aid, Israel has amended its approach recently, first agreeing to send helmets and flak jackets to emergency workers in Ukraine, and last week sending an official Defense Ministry representative to US-led talks in Germany on equipping Ukraine.
According to a diplomatic official cited in Haaretz, Israel will not consider sending offensive arms or advanced defensive technology, such as the Iron Dome anti-missile system, but will attempt to find equipment that can be donated without sparking a further crisis with Moscow.
Viktorov, the Russian ambassador, said last month that if Israel supplies Ukraine with military equipment, Moscow “will respond accordingly.”