JERUSALEM—Relations between Russia and Israel have long been cordial and cooperative, but in the past two months they have begun deteriorating rapidly.
Ever since Russian President Vladimir Putin ordered his military to invade Ukraine, I’ve been watching the number of political attacks and criticism by Moscow against Israel and the Jewish people spike significantly.
But this week, the attacks from Moscow have reached a new low.
Are the two countries on a collision course?
During an interview with an Italian TV network on Sunday, Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov lashed out viciously against the Jewish people.
Lavrov accused Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy of being in league with neo-Nazis against Russian interests.
“The fact that he [Zelenskyy] is a Jew does not negate the Nazi elements in his country,” Lavrov said, repeating Moscow’s completely unsubstantiated mantra that Russia was forced to invade to protect itself from Nazi forces throughout Ukraine.
But Lavrov didn’t stop there.
Attempting to justify his attack on a Jewish president in Europe being in collusion with modern-day Nazis, the Russian foreign minister went on to say this was not impossible, and in fact had happened before in history.
“I believe that Adolf Hitler had Jewish blood,” he said.
“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,” Lavrov insisted.
But nor did Lavrov stop there.
Putin’s most trusted and prominent foreign policy advisor and spokesman went on to say, “The worst anti-Semites are the Jews.”
ISRAELI FOREIGN MINISTER CALLS ATTACK “UNFORGIVABLE”
Up until now, the Israeli government has been walking a very fine line, trying to show moral and practical support for Zelenskyy and the Ukrainian people while trying not to overtly take sides against Russia.
But on Monday morning, Israeli Foreign Minister Yair Lapid took the gloves off.
Lapid called Lavrov’s statement “an unforgivable and scandalous comment.”
Lapid went on to call the remarks “a terrible historical error and we expect an apology.”
“Jews did not kill themselves in the Holocaust,” Lapid said. “My grandfather was killed by Nazis. To say that Hitler was of Jewish origin is like saying that Jews killed themselves and we cannot forgive such a comparison.”
“It enrages me not only as foreign minister, but also as a son of my father who was put in the Budapest ghetto,” Lapid added. “He was not put there by Jews. He was put there by Nazis.”
“The Nazis persecuted the Jews and killed six million of them,” Lapid continued. “Ukrainians were not Nazis. Only the Nazis were Nazis and they had conducted a systematic eradication of the Jewish people.”
Lapid said he will summon Russia’s ambassador to Israel for “a not-so-easy talk.”
ISRAELI PM BENNETT VIEWS LAVROV COMMENTS WITH “UTMOST SEVERITY”
“I view with utmost severity the Russian Foreign Minister's statement. His words are untrue and their intentions are wrong,” said Israel Prime Minister Naftali Bennett.
“The goal of such lies is to accuse the Jews themselves of the most awful crimes in history, which were perpetrated against them, and thereby absolve Israel's enemies of responsibility,” he continued. “As I have already said, no war in our time is like the Holocaust or is comparable to the Holocaust. The use of the Holocaust of the Jewish people as a political tool must cease immediately.”
LAVROV’S ATTACK “STRANGE AND DANGEROUS”
Other outraged Israeli officials weighed in as well.
“A new low for antisemitism was reached this morning,” Israeli Deputy Foreign Minister Idan Roll tweeted, noting that Lavrov’s remarks were part of a “disturbing trend of disparaging the Holocaust” by Russian leaders since the invasion of Ukraine.
Amb. Dani Dayan, the new chairman of Yad Vashem – Israel’s Holocaust Memorial and Research Center – said, “Lavrov's words are unfounded, strange and dangerous and must be condemned.”
GROWING LIST OF MOSCOW ATTACKS AGAINST ISRAEL AND THE JEWISH PEOPLE
What makes Lavrov’s ugly remarks particularly worrisome is that they are part of a serious and growing trend that began soon after Putin ordered Russian forces to invade Ukraine.
Consider these recent headlines – published by ALL ISRAEL NEWS and other media outlets – documenting the rising tensions between Moscow and Jerusalem:
Can such tensions be defused?
Or are Moscow and Jerusalem now on a dangerous new path towards direct confrontation?
It’s too soon to tell.
But such trend lines are one more reason for Evangelicals to “pray for the peace of Jerusalem,” as commanded by King David in Psalm 122.
Joel C. Rosenberg is the editor-in-chief of ALL ISRAEL NEWS and ALL ARAB NEWS and the President and CEO of Near East Media. A New York Times best-selling author, Middle East analyst, and Evangelical leader, he lives in Jerusalem with his wife and sons.