May 5, 2022 - World

Putin apologized for "Hitler" claim, Israel says

Putin (right) meets Bennett last October in Sochi, Russia. Photo: Yevgeny Biyatov/Sputnik/AFP via Getty

Russian President Vladimir Putin apologized on Thursday for his Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov's false claim that Adolf Hitler had "Jewish blood," the Israeli Prime Minister's Office said following a call between Putin and Prime Minister Naftali Bennett.

Why it matters: Lavrov’s comments created a diplomatic crisis between Russia and Israel, which was heightened Tuesday after the Russian Foreign Ministry doubled down on Lavrov's statements and accused Israel of supporting Ukrainian "neo-Nazis." If confirmed, Putins' apology is a remarkable walk back.

Catch up quick: In an interview with an Italian TV channel on Sunday, Lavrov used the erroneous claim about Hitler's ancestry to justify calling Ukraine's Jewish president, Volodymyr Zelensky, a Nazi.

  • Israeli officials including President Isaac Herzog, Prime Minister Naftali Bennett and Foreign Minister Yair Lapid all condemned Lavrov's comments as antisemitic "lies." It was the first time Israel publicly condemned the groundless Russian claim that Zelensky is a Nazi.
  • The Israeli Foreign Ministry summoned Russia's ambassador for what Israeli officials called “a very difficult conversation."
  • But the Russian Foreign Ministry attacked Lapid, saying his response to Lavrov's remarks contradicted history and that Israel's government “supports the neo-Nazi regime" in Kyiv.

What they're saying: "The Prime Minister accepted President Putin's apology for Lavrov's remarks and thanked him for clarifying the President's attitude towards the Jewish people and the memory of the Holocaust," Bennett’s office said in a statement.

The Kremlin statement about the call didn’t mention an apology, but did appear to try to turn the page.

  • Putin and Bennett discussed the significance of May 9 — celebrated as "Victory Day" in Russia — in preserving the "historical truth" about World War II and honoring those lost, "including victims of the Holocaust," the Kremlin said.
  • Putin also noted that many Soviet Jews were killed by the Nazis and asked Bennett to convey well wishes to veterans of the war living in Israel, the Kremlin said, adding that Bennett had noted the "decisive contribution" of the Red Army in the war.

State of play: The call between Putin and Bennett took place a day after Zelensky called Bennett to condemn Lavrov's comments and update him on the efforts to evacuate civilians from Mariupol.

  • The Israeli Prime Minister’s Office said Bennett presented Putin with various options for evacuations from the Azovstal steel plant in the city.
  • “President Putin promised to allow the evacuation of civilians, including wounded civilians, through a UN and Red Cross humanitarian corridor," Bennett’s office said.
  • “As for the militants remaining at Azovstal, the Kyiv authorities should give them an order to lay down their arms," Putin told Bennett.

Flashback: Russia-Israel relations have been relatively good in the nearly four years since a major crisis in September 2018, after Russia blamed a lack of coordination from Israel for the downing of a Russian military plane in Syria.

  • However, they're now being tested by the war. Israel initially took a balanced approach but has recently been more supportive of Ukraine.
  • Putin and Bennett spoke of the need for friendly relations and open lines of communication going forward, the Kremlin said.

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