Editorial |

The Real Face of Putin

Russian President Vladimir Putin delivers a speech during a ceremony honoring the country's Olympians and Paralympians at the Kremlin in Moscow, Russia April 26, 2022.
Russian President Vladimir Putin delivers a speech during a ceremony honoring the country's Olympians and Paralympians at the Kremlin in Moscow, Russia April 26, 2022.Credit: REUTERS/Maxim Shemetov

Anyone who was shocked by the words of Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov that “Hitler had Jewish blood” and that “the most ardent antisemites are usually Jews” was apparently not paying attention to Russian propaganda in recent months, which routinely accuses Ukraine of being under the control of a “neo-Nazi junta.”

Above and beyond the absurdity of the claim that the government of Ukraine – which is headed by a Jewish president, Volodymyr Zelenskyy, and where Jews hold many key positions – is “Nazi,” the fact is that this accusation has long been heard as a way of justifying the Russian invasion and systematic war crimes. It testifies to the character of the Russian regime and those who head it, even before Lavrov made his remarks.

The condemnation voiced by Israeli Prime Minister Naftali Bennett and Foreign Minister Yair Lapid is too little, too late; They ignore the fact that Lavrov is the faithful spokesman of the Russian president, Vladimir Putin.

The myth that has been cultivated for many years by oligarchs, by those close to the Kremlin and by populist politicians like Benjamin Netanyahu to the effect that Putin really is a friend of Israel and “good for the Jews” should have been exploded a long time ago.

A dictator who oppresses his people, sends his army to bomb Syrians, invades his neighbors and threatens world peace can’t be good for the Jews or for Israel. The State of Israel, which sees itself as the moral heir to the victims and the survivors of the Holocaust, can’t stand on the sidelines when Jewish history is distorted to justify the atrocities that Russia is committing on Ukrainian soil.

Of condemnations, there is no end. Israel can rescue itself from the embarrassment of “neutrality” it has adopted and join its allies in the West by imposing economic sanctions on Russia and supplying arms to Ukraine, which is heroically countering the Russian invasion.

This is not just about fixing a moral flaw in Israeli foreign policy. The slow progress of the Russian invasion calls into question Israeli assumptions about Russian military and political power and its ability to deny Israel freedom to attack Iranian targets in the skies in Syria.

The war in Ukraine isn’t a fleeting event. It has brought together the world’s democracies, albeit belatedly, to act against the tyrannical and murderous populism of Russia and its allies. Israel’s proper place in this war needs to be clear. Israel has nothing to gain from friendships with dictators who distort the Holocaust for their own destructive needs. Certainly not now, after Putin and Lavrov have revealed their true face.

The above article is Haaretz's lead editorial, as published in the Hebrew and English newspapers in Israel.

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