Russian President Vladimir Putin on Thursday apologised for his foreign minister Sergey Lavrov’s comment on Adolf Hitler having “Jewish blood,” a claim that had sparked outrage across the world.
The Russian president apologised personally to Israel Prime Minister Naftali Bennett, the latter’s office said in a statement after the two leaders spoke over the telephone on Thursday.
The Israeli PM, for his part, accepted Putin’s apology and “thanked him for clarifying his attitude towards the Jewish people and the memory of the Holocaust,” Bennett’s office added.
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The statement further said that Bennett, after speaking to Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky, requested Putin to allow the evacuation of civilians from the Azovstal steel plant in the besieged port city of Mariupol, to which the Russian president agreed.
The conversation between the two leaders is the first one to take place since Lavrov appeared to claim that Hitler had Jewish origins.
“He [Zelensky] puts forward an argument: what kind of Nazism can they have if he is a Jew. I may be wrong, but Hitler also had Jewish blood. It means absolutely nothing. The wise Jewish people say that the most ardent anti-Semites are usually Jews,” the Russian foreign minister said last Sunday.
Lavrov’s comments sparked outrage, both in Ukraine, as well as in Israel, which recently observed Yom HaShoah, or Holocaust Remembrance Day, to mourn the six million Jews killed by Nazi Germany.
Israel Foreign Minister Yair Lapid immediately condemned Lavrov’s comments, calling them “unforgivable and outrageous.”
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“Jews did not murder themselves in the Holocaust. The lowest level of racism against Jews is to accuse Jews themselves of anti-Semitism,” Lapid added.
Ukraine’s response to Lavrov’s comments was equally pointed, and Zelensky condemned what he described as Russia’s “anti-Semitic thrust,” urging Moscow to remember important lessons from World War II.
Nazism in Ukraine was one of the reasons cited by Putin prior to the beginning of the invasion on February 24. The 69-year-old had described the Russian incursion into Ukraine as a special military operation to “de-nazify” the eastern European country, but Kyiv has repeatedly denied the presence of Nazi elements in the country.