Russia to summon Israeli envoy over criticism of its Hamas ties, Holocaust distortion

Moscow laments ‘extremely unsuccessful start’ for recently appointed Ambassador Simona Halperin, claims her remarks misrepresent its foreign policy

Israel's Ambassador to Russia Simona Halperin (right) presents her credentials to Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Mikhail Bogdanov, January 1, 2024. (Simona Halperin's X account)
Israel's Ambassador to Russia Simona Halperin (right) presents her credentials to Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Mikhail Bogdanov, January 1, 2024. (Simona Halperin's X account)

Russia’s Foreign Ministry will summon Israeli ambassador Simona Halperin over “unacceptable comments” she made in an interview, the TASS news agency cited the ministry as saying on Monday.

Halperin, according to the ministry, misrepresented Russia’s foreign policy stance in the interview with Russia’s Kommersant daily, published on Sunday.

The ministry described her comments as “an extremely unsuccessful start” to her diplomatic posting, which began last December.

In the interview, Halperin criticized Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov for playing down the importance of the Holocaust and said Russia was too friendly with the Gaza-based Hamas terror group

Beyond the criticism, Halperin also hailed the close ties between Israel and Russia, noting Israel’s large Russian immigrant population, and that both her grandfathers fought for the Red Army in the “Great Patriotic War,” the Russian name for World War II.

But Halperin said she didn’t understand why International Holocaust Memorial Day, on January 27, was not a part of Russia’s official calendar and planned to raise the issue with Moscow.

File: Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov holds a press conference at UN headquarters in New York on January 24, 2024. (ANGELA WEISS / AFP)

“I don’t really understand why Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov downplays the significance of this monstrous event,” she told Kommersant.

Last month, the Kremlin’s Foreign Ministry spokeswoman belittled the Holocaust’s impact on the Jewish people, characterizing it as a mass extermination of “various ethnic and social groups.”

“Yes, many nations suffered heavy losses, the Russian people paid for the victory over Nazism with millions and millions of lives. And we remember this. But never before in history has the world known such a massive and systematic extermination of people solely on ethnic grounds. Only the Jewish people experienced this. I will repeat this tirelessly,” she added.

Halperin said that Russia’s leadership had long “repeatedly stated that the security of Israel is a strategic interest of Russia” but “unfortunately, after October 7, we saw that this principle is no longer relevant.”

“It seems to me that the Russian leadership did not fully understand that we had found ourselves in a different, terrible reality. Hamas, backed by Iran, carried out a brutal, inhumane attack. They burned houses along with their residents, and killed women, old people, and children. More than 1,200 Israelis were killed and more than 240 were taken hostage, of whom 136 are still in the hands of Hamas,” she said, criticizing Russia for taking time before condemning the massacre, and noting that Russian citizens were also kidnapped.

Hamas has refused to comply with Russia’s request to release all Russian citizens currently held in captivity in Gaza, Hamas deputy politburo chairman Moussa Abu Marzouk told the Arabic edition of Russian state-owned media outlet RT last month.

From left to right: Iran’s Deputy Foreign Minister Ali Bagheri Kani, Russian Deputy Foreign Minister and Putin’s Special Envoy to the Middle East Mikhail Bogdanov, and Hamas head of international relations Mousa Abu Marzouk, during a trilateral meeting in Moscow on October 26, 2023. (Hamas Telegram channel)

Halperin noted that while the Muslim Brotherhood is a terror group banned in Russia, its list does not include Hamas, a branch of the organization.

“But no, Hamas members are received in Moscow, hugged, and carpets are rolled out for them. We cannot understand this,” she said. “Russia, which itself suffered from terrorist attacks, does not support Israel’s fight against terrorism.”

“On the contrary, it stands in solidarity with the Republic of South Africa, which filed an absurd lawsuit against Israel with the International Court of Justice, accusing it of genocide,” Halperin said. “Russia’s position worries and depresses me since because of it, your country is losing the sympathy of Israelis, including Russian speakers.”

Since war broke out on October 7, Russia has regularly criticized Israel, including in the UN Security Council, while hosting leaders of Hamas in a development widely seen as an extension of its increasingly friendly ties with Iran.

Moscow has backed Israel’s right to defend itself but has blasted Israel for employing “cruel methods” in its campaign against the terror group.

Tehran has become a key ally as Moscow seeks support for its invasion of Ukraine. Israel had offered only relatively modest support for Kyiv in a bid to safeguard its relationship with Russia, but the once-close allies have nonetheless grown far apart.

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