Israel accused Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov of desecrating the memory of the Holocaust on Wednesday after the senior diplomat publicly equated Ukrainian efforts to defend its territory with Nazi Germany’s campaign to eradicate the Jews of Europe.
Speaking at a press conference in Moscow, Lavrov accused the United States of assembling a coalition of European countries to solve "the Russian question" in the same way that Adolf Hitler had sought a "final solution" to eradicate Europe's Jews.
The longtime foreign minister – who drew fierce condemnation from Israel after accusing Ukraine’s Jewish President, Volodymyr Zelenskyy, of Nazism last summer – said Washington was using the same tactic as Napoleon and the Nazis in trying to subjugate Europe in order to destroy Russia.
Using Ukraine as a proxy,"they are waging war against our country with the same task: the 'final solution' of the Russian question,” he said. "Just as Hitler wanted a 'final solution' to the Jewish question, now, if you read Western politicians… they clearly say Russia must suffer a strategic defeat."
The 'Final Solution' was Nazi German leader Adolf Hitler's Holocaust blueprint, which led to the systematic murder of 6 million Jews, as well as members of other minorities.
"The Holocaust was the darkest moment in the history of humanity and a unique event,” a spokesman for the Israeli Foreign Ministry told Haaretz.
"Any comparison or relating current events with Hitler's final solution plan for the extermination of the Jewish People distorts the historical truth, desecrates the memory of those who perished and the survivors and should be strongly rejected. Such comparisons are unacceptable."
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Israel’s Yad Vashem Holocaust memorial and museum also accused Lavrov of "insensitive, delusional and dangerous misinterpretation of historical facts and must be condemned.”
"Lavrov's equation of Hitler's murderous campaign to annihilate the Jewish people known as the 'Final Solution’ with current Ukrainian moves to counter the Russian invasion is an utter distortion of the history and an affront to the actual victims of Nazism,” the memorial said in a statement.
This is not the first time that Yad Vashem has tangled with Russia over the course of its nearly year-long war in Ukraine.
Last March, the memorial issued a statement condemning “the propagandist discourse accompanying the current hostilities,” which it said was “saturated with irresponsible statements and completely inaccurate comparisons with Nazi ideology and actions before and during the Holocaust.”
Since the start of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine last February, both sides have compared the other with Nazis and accused them of committing genocide. Russian President Vladimir Putin justified his revanchism by claiming that his goal was to "demilitarize and denazify" Ukraine.
Russia's claims were vehemently denied by Ukrainian Jewish leaders, who expressed anger over Russian strikes that have damaged multiple Jewish sites, including a synagogue, yeshiva and Holocaust memorial.
Putin has long used allegations of Nazism to legitimize his actions against Ukraine. In 2014, following the Russian invasion of Crimea, he cited an alleged “rampage” of reactionary, nationalistic and antisemitic forces across the country.
Speaking with Haaretz last year, Katharina von Schnurbein, the European Commission’s coordinator on combating antisemitism asserted that Moscow’s self-declared mission to “denazify” its neighbor was “related to antisemitism” and constituted “instrumentalization of the Holocaust.”
Lavrov’s Holocaust comparison is “a perfect example of the misuse of the Holocaust,” Dr. Efraim Zuroff of the Simon Wiesenthal Center told Haaretz on Wednesday, quipping sarcastically that Lavrov was “one of the world’s great historians who said that Hitler was a Jew. What do you expect?”
Lavrov, he continued, “apparently has no grasp of world politics and therefore makes the most extreme statements.”
In an interview with Italian media last summer, Lavrov said that Zelenskyy’s Jewishness did not negate Ukraine's Nazi elements and repeated the conspiracy theory that Hitler also “had Jewish blood.”
"The most ardent antisemites are usually Jews,” he claimed.
Condemning Lavrov’s “lies,” then-Prime Minister Naftali Bennett said that such rhetoric was “intended to accuse the Jews themselves of the most horrific crimes in history committed against them, thus freeing the responsibility from the oppressors of Israel.”
"The use of the Holocaust of the Jewish people as a political tool must be stopped immediately,” Bennett demanded.
The Russian foreign minister’s most recent comments echoed a similar claim made by Zelenskyy several weeks after the beginning of the war, when he told Israeli lawmakers in a live-streamed speech that Moscow was using the “language of the final solution.”
Alleging that Russia is seeking to uproot Ukrainian independence, culture and national identity, Zelenskyy said that a direct comparison can be made between Jewish and Ukrainian experiences and pointed out that the Russian invasion came 102 years to the day after Adolf Hitler presented the Nazi party platform on February 24, 1920.
“Listen to the words of the Kremlin. They are using the terminology of the Nazis,” Zelenskyy declared. “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’s speech likewise drew heated responses from senior Israeli officials.
Russian forces in Ukraine have been credibly accused of numerous alleged war crimes and pundits on Russian state media have repeatedly questioned Ukrainians’ right to exist as an independent nation with their own state.
Last October, Russia’s Chief Rabbi called on Moscow to condemn a top security official after he wrote an article claiming that “neo-pagan cults,” including the Chabad Hasidic movement, had taken over Ukraine.
Citing influential Ukrainian oligarchs Igor Kolomoisky and Viktor Pinchuk’s links to the Chabad Hasidic movement, whose main principle he claimed is its members’ superiority “above all nations and peoples,” Alexei Pavlov, the assistant secretary of the Security Council of the Russian Federation, argued that it had become “increasingly urgent to carry out the denazification of Ukraine.”
Reuters contributed to this report.