Russia downplays Holocaust’s impact on Jews, pans German defense of Israel at ICJ

FM spokeswoman says Berlin ignores massacres of non-Jews during WWII, criticizes ‘unfettered support’ of Israel; Jerusalem slams Holocaust distortion, thanks Germany for backing

Michael Horovitz is a breaking news editor at The Times of Israel

Russian Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Maria Zakharova attends Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov's annual end-of-year press conference in Moscow on January 18, 2024. (Alexander NEMENOV / AFP)
Russian Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Maria Zakharova attends Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov's annual end-of-year press conference in Moscow on January 18, 2024. (Alexander NEMENOV / AFP)

Russia on Sunday appeared to belittle the Holocaust’s impact on the Jewish people, characterizing it as a mass extermination of “various ethnic and social groups,” while slamming Germany for intervening on behalf of Israel as a third party in the International Court of Justice’s “genocide” case.

At a media conference, the Kremlin’s Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Maria Zakharova criticized what she labeled as Berlin’s “unfettered support” for the Jewish state, and accused it of systematically ignoring the plight of non-Jewish European minorities, particularly Slavic peoples in the then-Soviet Union, who were massacred during the Holocaust.

Israel’s Foreign Ministry responded with a brief statement late Sunday, thanking Germany “for its unequivocal support and its stand against South Africa’s baseless claim,” and blasting the spokesperson’s comments as a “distortion of the Holocaust” and “harmful to victims and survivors.”

At the conference, she said: “It seems that Germany has once again forgotten that under UN General Assembly Resolution A/RES/60/7 and several other international instruments, the Holocaust is defined as the persecution and mass extermination of people representing various ethnic and social groups by the Nazis. There is also the OSCE’s Berlin Declaration setting forth the need to promote the importance of respecting all ethnic and religious groups without any distinction.

The UN resolution, passed in 2005 to establish International Holocaust Memorial Day on January 27, stressed the impact of the Jews during the genocide, noting that it “resulted in the murder of one-third of the Jewish people, along with countless members of other minorities.”

“Berlin persists in its refusal to recognize Nazi crimes against our people as genocide,” Zakharova said, citing Berlin’s refusal to pay reparations to non-Jewish victims of the nearly two-and-a-half-year Siege of Leningrad during World War II.

“Russian investigative bodies and courts have compiled a wide body of evidence exposing war crimes, crimes against humanity, and genocide by the Third Reich troops across various regions of our country,” she said.

File: The South African legal team sits during hearings in the International Court of Justice (ICJ) on the request for provisional measures submitted by South Africa in the case South Africa v. Israel on January 11-12, 2024, at the Peace Palace in The Hague, the seat of the Court. (Courtesy International Court of Justice)

“Germany has surpassed other countries in the European Union in zealously defending the [Kyiv] regime which has made the glorification of Nazi accomplices a key domestic and foreign policy tenet,” she stated, referencing Berlin’s support of Ukraine in the face of Russia’s invasion since 2022.

Russian leaders have repeatedly tried to justify their invasion of Ukraine as a struggle against neo-Nazism, though it has not presented evidence to back this up and despite the Ukrainian president, Volodymyr Zelensky, being Jewish.

“All this leads to the conclusion that in the context of the ongoing proceedings at the International Court of Justice, Berlin decided to single out the Holocaust issue by setting it apart from all other aspects of its guilty historical acts against humanity. Moreover, it refuses to view it in a holistic manner. Instead, Berlin adjusts its perspective as it deems fit to suit its momentary considerations,” Zakharova claimed.

The German government sharply rejected the allegations brought by South Africa at the UN’s top court earlier this month, as if Israel was committing “genocide” in Gaza, warning against “political instrumentalization” of the charge.

Government spokesman Steffen Hebestreit said in a statement on January 12 that Israel was “defending itself” after the “inhuman” onslaught by Hamas on October 7, when terrorists rampaged through southern communities, murdering some 1,200 people, mostly civilians, and kidnapping 253 to Gaza.

The move allows Germany to present its own case to the court that Israel has not infringed the genocide convention and has not committed or intended to commit genocide.

Germany is not claiming to be legally impacted by South Africa’s case and therefore it does not require the ICJ’s permission for third-party intervention.

As a signatory of the 1948 Genocide Convention, it has the right to join cases and put forward its arguments on the case. The convention was enacted in the wake of the mass murder of Jews in the Holocaust, and defines genocide as “acts committed with intent to destroy, in whole or in part, a national, ethnical, racial or religious group.”

Smoke rises into the sky in the Gaza Strip, as seen from southern Israel, January 21, 2024. (AP Photo/Leo Correa)

Hebestreit stated that Germany “intends to intervene as a third party in the main hearing,” suggesting Berlin will intrude in South Africa’s primary case against Israel in which the court could take years to decide whether or not Israel has violated the Genocide Convention.

Accordingly, the move does not appear to have influenced the proceedings earlier this month — hearings where South Africa has requested an interim injunction from the court compelling Israel to implement a ceasefire. A decision on that more immediate matter is expected within one month.

“In light of German history and the crimes against humanity of the Shoah, the German government is particularly committed to the [UN] Genocide Convention,” signed in 1948 in the wake of the Holocaust, Hebestreit said.

Israel’s legal team in The Hague attacked the fundamental claims of South Africa’s genocide allegations in the International Court of Justice and attempted to punch holes in the accusations that Israel’s state organs have genocidal intent against the Palestinians in Gaza during the current conflict with Hamas.

Israel’s six legal representatives asserted that the ICJ has no jurisdiction over the complaints brought by South Africa since they relate to the laws of armed conflict, not genocide; argued that “random” inflammatory comments of Israeli politicians did not reflect policy determined in the state bodies making war policy; and insisted that the widespread harm to Palestinian civilians during the war was a result of Hamas’s massive use of civilian infrastructure for military purposes and not genocidal acts.

They also underlined in depth the steps Israel has taken to warn civilians to evacuate from Israel Defense Forces operational areas and to provide humanitarian assistance to Palestinian civilians, including facilitating the establishment of field hospitals in Gaza to aid Gazans and mitigate harm to them.

Vowing to destroy the terror group after the devastating assault, Israel launched a wide-scale military campaign in Gaza, which the Hamas-run health ministry has said killed over 25,000 people since. These figures cannot be independently verified, and are believed to include both civilians and Hamas members killed in Gaza, including as a consequence of terror groups’ own rocket misfires. The IDF says it has killed over 9,000 operatives in Gaza, in addition to some 1,000 terrorists inside Israel on October 7.

AFP, Jacob Magid and Jeremy Sharon contributed to this report.

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