Russian Ambassador to Israel Anatoly Viktorov on Tuesday left a Knesset event commemorating Victory Day after lawmakers there criticized Moscow for its invasion of Ukraine.
Channel 12 news reported that the envoy stormed out of the session while expressing anger over the lawmakers’ remarks. The Russian Embassy asserted that he simply left to reach the next event on his schedule.
Victory Day, marked in Russia on May 9, is the country’s most important secular holiday, commemorating the Soviet Red Army’s determination and losses in World War II.
Among the comments that reportedly irked the ambassador were those of Labor MK Gilad Kariv, who denounced the invasion as “illegitimate,” adding that recent revelations show that some of Russia’s actions in Ukraine “amount to crimes against humanity.”
“Unfortunately, this day cannot be marked without an anxious look and a strong voice in protest of Russia’s military activity in Ukraine’s sovereign territory — actions which claimed the lives of many thousands,” Kariv said during the ceremony.
“Actions that, that to our dismay, are also being revealed as crimes against humanity. The spirit of this day and the lesson we must learn from the terrible price humanity paid for the aggression of Germany and its allies in World War II, obliges us to stand against Russian aggression and support the international effort to bring an end to this unnecessary and illegitimate war.”
Yisrael Beytenu MK Evgeny Sova, himself born in the Ukrainian city of Pervomaisk, decried the events in Ukraine and how they affect the memory of those who fought in World War II.
“Unfortunately today we once again see the guns roaring on European soil,” he said.
“I, as a native of Ukraine, can not help but look with pain at what is happening, at this terrible war. It particularly hurts me that those who defeated the Nazi oppressor and brought victory — are today fighting each other. The war in Ukraine is a crime, a slap in the face to our grandparents who fought the Nazis. This war damages the memory of my grandfather, who was born in Ukraine and lived all his life in Moscow. It harms all those who have fallen for peace and the right to live in this world.”
Likud MK Yuli Edelstein, a Ukrainian-born former Prisoner of Zion under the Soviet Union, said Russia was “cynically” using Victory Day to justify its invasion, accusing it of deliberately killing civilians.
“What we are witnessing these days, is a cynical exploitation of this great victory,” he said. “We are witnessing a cynical exploitation by one country, of this day, to justify in the 21st century, in the year 2022, the killing and murder of innocent civilians, atrocities, shooting handcuffed people, rape, demolishing houses, shooting at schools, things that are indescribable.”
MK Yisrael Eichler appeared to compare Russia’s war to the one waged by Nazi Germany, saying the common refrain of “never again” had been proven wrong as “Russia entered Ukraine without asking anyone and no one could stop it.”
Several other MKs who spoke did not mention the Russian invasion of Ukraine.
Asked for comment, a spokeswoman from Russia’s embassy in Tel Aviv told The Times of Israel that Viktorov’s departure “was of a purely organizational nature. The ambassador was trying not to be late for an important meeting.”
About 1.5 million Jews fought in Allied armies during World War II, including 500,000 in the Red Army, 550,000 in the US army, 100,000 in the Polish army and 30,000 in the British army, according to Yad Vashem.
Some of those who fought in the Red Army served in the highest levels of command. About 200,000 Soviet Jewish soldiers fell on the battlefield or into German captivity. Those who survived built families and careers in the Soviet Union, until the Communist regime collapsed and many of them ended up in Israel.
The reported incident comes amid strained relations between Moscow and Jerusalem over the past weeks, particularly following Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov’s claim that Nazi leader Adolf Hitler had Jewish blood.
Israel strongly denounced the top diplomat’s claims, meant to justify the invasion of Ukraine, a country Russia has claimed is led by Nazis, but whose president is Jewish. Russia initially doubled down on the claim. Prime Minister Naftali Bennett’s office said Russian President Vladimir Putin has since apologized in a call, though the Kremlin has not confirmed this.
Early on in Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, Israel sought to walk a diplomatic tightrope between Moscow and Kyiv, preserving relations with both of its allies and offering to broker talks. More recently, Jerusalem has turned toward stronger support of Ukraine, denouncing Russia for alleged war crimes as well as sending helmets and flak jackets to Ukraine, reversing an earlier policy.