The comments, made during an interview with Italian television, prompted Israel to summon the Russian ambassador. Lavrov made the remarks when he was asked why Russia feels it needs to “denazify” Ukraine if the country’s own president, Volodymyr Zelenskiy, is Jewish. Moscow has repeatedly used the claim to justify its invasion of the country.
“So when they say ‘How can Nazification exist if we’re Jewish?’ In my opinion, Hitler also had Jewish origins, so it doesn’t mean absolutely anything. For some time we have heard from the Jewish people that the biggest antisemites were Jewish,” he said, speaking to the station in Russian, dubbed over by an Italian translation.
Israeli Foreign Minister Yair Lapid, whose grandfather died in the Holocaust, blasted Lavrov in a statement Monday.
“Foreign Minister Lavrov’s remarks are both an unforgivable and outrageous statement, as well as a terrible historical error,” he said. “The lowest level of racism against Jews is to accuse Jews themselves of anti-Semitism.”
Israeli Prime Minister Naftali Bennett said that “such lies are intended to accuse the Jews themselves of the most horrific crimes in history that were committed against them.”
World War II, in which the Soviet Union lost an estimated 27 million people and helped defeat Nazi Germany, is a linchpin of Russia’s national identity. Repeatedly reaching for the historical narrative that places Russia as a savior against evil forces has helped the Kremlin rally Russians around the war in Ukraine.
Zelenskyy has compared Russia’s invasion to the actions of Nazi Germany, accusing Russian President Vladimir Putin of trying to carry out a “final solution” against Ukraine.
Dani Dayan, chairman of Yad Vashem, Israel’s memorial to the six million Jews killed in the Holocaust, said the Russian minister’s remarks were “an insult and a severe blow to the victims of the real Nazism,” Reuters reported.
The identity of one of Hitler’s grandfathers is not known but there has been some speculation, never backed up by any evidence, that he might have been a Jew.
Ukrainian Foreign Minister Dmytro Kuleba said Lavrov’s remarks “demonstrate that today’s Russia is full of hatred towards other nations.”
“FM Lavrov could not help hiding the deeply-rooted antisemitism of the Russian elites,” he tweeted. “His heinous remarks are offensive to President @ZelenskyyUa, Ukraine, Israel, and the Jewish people.”
The Associated Press contributed to this report.