Prime Minister Naftali Bennett panned Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy's comparison of the Russian invasion to the Nazi genocide, telling a conference organized by the Ynet news site on Monday that “it is forbidden to compare anything to the Holocaust.”
Bennett’s comments come less than a day after Zelenskyy stated, during a live-streamed video address to Israeli lawmakers, that Moscow was using the “language of the final solution.”
“Listen to the words of the Kremlin. They are using the terminology of the Nazis,” Zelenskyy declared in a speech harshly critical of Israel’s approach to the conflict with Russia.
“The final solution to the Jewish question you well remember. Listen to what they are now saying in Moscow. Now these words are being used again, the Final Solution, but now it is directed at us, on the issue of Ukraine. They are speaking about this openly on official sites and in the media,” Zelenskyy said.
Asked about the Ukrainian leader’s comments during the Ynet conference on Monday, Bennett replied that he understood that Zelenskyy is “a leader who is fighting for the life of his country” but that “I personally believe that it is forbidden to equate the Holocaust to anything.”
Asked about the progress of Israeli-brokered negotiations, Bennett told Ynet on Monday that “in recent weeks there has been some progress between the two sides, but the gaps at present on a number of basic issues are still very large.”
Pledging to “continue together with the other friends in the world to try to bridge [the gaps] to put an end to the war,” Bennett stated that there had been some progress, even if not enough to stop the bloodshed.
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The Russians, he said, had previously raised “replacing Zelenskyy” as well as complete Ukrainian disarmament, both of which are no longer on the table. But despite this, “there is still a long way to go.”
Ever since Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, both sides of the conflict have compared their opponents to Nazis and accused them of committing genocide. On February 24, the morning his forces first entered Ukraine, Russian President Vladimir Putin declared that “the purpose of this operation is to protect people who, for eight years now, have been facing humiliation and genocide perpetrated by the Kyiv regime” and that his goal was “to demilitarize and denazify Ukraine.”
Shortly after the speech, the Ukrainian government's official Twitter account posted a depiction of Adolf Hitler caressing Putin's face, writing: "This is not a 'meme,' but our and your reality right now.”
In one statement, several days after the first Russian troops crossed the border, Zelenskyy declared that “Russia's criminal actions against Ukraine bear signs of genocide.” Two weeks later, after Russian forces bombed a maternity hospital in the port city of Mariupol, Zelenskyy held up the strike as “proof that the genocide of Ukrainians is taking place.”
Since the beginning of the war, Israel has taken great pains not to upset Russia, stating that its reticence to engage in a full-throated defense of Ukraine was necessary both for Israeli security interests and because Jerusalem needs to remain a credible intermediary between Kyiv and Moscow.
On Sunday, however, Zelenskyy brushed aside those concerns, demanding that Israel arm Ukraine and remove limits on Ukrainian immigration imposed since the invasion.
“I am sure you feel our pain, but could you explain why we are still calling the whole world, many countries, and asking for help. We are now asking you for help or at the very least visas,” he said, referring to Israeli limits on Ukrainian refugees imposed after the invasion.
“What is this? Apathy? Calculations? Or mediation without taking a side? I’ll let you answer that question, but I want to point out that apathy kills, calculations can be incorrect. You can mediate between countries, but not between good and evil,” he said.
He subsequently moderated his tone, declaring in a video address posted online that Israel was undertaking many efforts to arrange top-level peace talks between his country and Russia and suggesting that they might take place in Jerusalem.
"Of course, Israel has its interests, strategy to protect its citizens. We understand all of it," said Zelenskyy, seated at a desk in his trademark khaki T-shirt.
Reuters contributed to this report.