How Putin's Apology to Israeli PM Bennett Unfolded

Mired in problems, Bennett efforts to mediate between Russia and Ukraine stopped. A Ukrainian request, however, prompted the Israeli premier to call Putin

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Russian President Vladimir Putin, right, and Israeli Prime Minister Naftali Bennett speak during their meeting in Sochi, Russia, in 2021.
Russian President Vladimir Putin, right, and Israeli Prime Minister Naftali Bennett speak during their meeting in Sochi, Russia, in 2021.Credit: Evgeny Biyatov, Sputnik, Kremlin Pool Photo via AP
Jonathan Lis
Jonathan Lis

Unusually, it was the Prime Minister's Office in Jerusalem that informed the public on Thursday that Russian President Vladimir Putin had apologized for the claim by Moscow's foreign minister, Sergei Lavrov, that Adolf Hitler had Jewish origins. The presidential apology was not mentioned in the Kremlin's briefing on the call on Thursday.

We can assume that the unilateral Israeli announcement was a well-coordinated and calculated move. Jerusalem places supreme importance on maintaining ties with Moscow, and it's reasonable to believe it wouldn't risk publicizing information that would endanger the relationship between Putin and Prime Minister Naftali Bennett.

President Isaac Herzog said this week that he did not think Lavrov's comments would cause lasting damage to Russia-Israel ties. Herzog became the highest-ranking Israeli official to give his opinion on Lavrov's remarks when he told Haaretz this week that Lavrov "chooses to spread lies, terrible lies, which smell of antisemitism. I expect him to retract his words and apologize."

Lavrov himself has not apologized, and Putin has not made a public apology. However, the Israeli government is interested in turning the page putting the incident behind it.

Israeli efforts to mediate between Ukraine and Russia ceased a few weeks ago. Putin and Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy are not currently interested in attempts bridge between the two sides. Putin is trying with all his might to capture Mariupol, while Zelenskyy, with the help  of the west, is heavily arming his forces. 

Bennett is also less free to deal with mediation attempts these days. The security escalation surrounding the month of Ramadan, and the serious wave of terror attacks, are taking up all his attention. The political crisis resulting from coalition whip Idit Sliman and the possible collapse of his government are meanwhile forcing Israel's prime minister to deal with domestic maintenance issue at the expense of initiatives at the international level. 

But one phone call Bennett had with Zelenskyy on Wednesday put him back in the thick of things. The Ukrainian president called Bennett and asked, as he asked other countries' leaders, to help convince Putin to allow an air corridor to allow civilians and soldiers besieged at a factory in Mariupol to be evacuated Bennett took up the gaunlet. He called the Kremlin with a request to speak with Putin, which was granted. During the call, Bennett raised Zelenskyy's request. According to sources with knowledge of the call, Putin raised the Lavrov issue on his own initiative and asked to apologize.     

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