Putin apologises for foreign minister’s Hitler remarks, Israel says

Naftali Bennett says he accepted phone apology after Russian foreign minister claimed Hitler had Jewish origins

Vladimir Putin has apologised to the Israeli prime minister, Naftali Bennett, for his foreign minister’s claims that Adolf Hitler had Jewish blood, Israel has said.

Bennett said he had accepted the apology from Putin, a rare concession from the Kremlin leader and a strong rebuke of his foreign minister, Sergei Lavrov. Putin may have feared that Israel could change its neutral stance on Russia’s invasion and join in sanctions and provisions of lethal aid to Ukraine.

Lavrov claimed this week in an interview that Hitler “had Jewish blood” and that “the most rabid antisemites tend to be Jews”. The incendiary remarks sparked outrage in Israel.

An Israeli account of the call on Thursday said that the two “discussed Russian foreign minister Lavrov’s remarks. The prime minister accepted President Putin’s apology for Lavrov’s remarks and thanked him for clarifying his attitude towards the Jewish people and the memory of the Holocaust.”

Russia’s readout of the phone call made no mention of the apology. It said that Putin and Bennett had a “thorough exchange of views on the situation in Ukraine” and “stressed the special importance” of the Victory Day holiday set for 9 May, as well as the importance of “carefully preserving the historical truth about the events of those years and honouring the memory of all the fallen, including the victims of the Holocaust”.

Bennett also said he asked Putin to consider allowing the evacuation of the besieged Azovstal steelworks in the Ukrainian port of Mariupol. The Israeli prime minister said he made the request after an earlier conversation with the Ukrainian president, Volodymyr Zelenskiy, and that Putin had promised to set up a corridor for civilian evacuation.

The phone call followed a diplomatic row over Lavrov’s remarks that Israeli media said had threatened to upset Israel’s careful stance on the Russian invasion.

On Monday, Israel summoned Russia’s ambassador, with the Israeli foreign minister, Yair Lapid, calling Lavrov’s remarks “unforgivable and outrageous … as well as a terrible historical error”. Lapid wrote: “Jews did not murder themselves in the Holocaust. The lowest level of racism against Jews is to accuse Jews themselves of antisemitism.”

On Tuesday, Russia’s foreign ministry doubled down, accusing Lapid of “antihistorical” remarks about the Holocaust that “largely explain the course of the current Israeli government in supporting the neo-Nazi regime in Kyiv”.

“Unfortunately, history knows tragic examples of Jewish cooperation with the Nazis,” the Russian foreign ministry said in a statement.

Since the war broke out, Israel has set up a field hospital in western Ukraine, provided humanitarian supplies, and protective vests and helmets for the Ukrainian army. It has so far refrained from sending more substantial military aid or imposing sanctions on Russia. Israel has a delicate relationship with Russia, as both have military interests in Syria.

Israel remains one of the few western countries willing to engage with Russia, and Putin has expended considerable political capital in his two decades as the Kremlin leader to cultivate Israel as an ally.

Meanwhile, another close ally, Alexander Lukashenko, appeared to criticise the Russian war as he said he didn’t expect the 10-week-old conflict to “drag on this way”.

In an interview with the Associated Press, Lukashenko said: “I feel like this operation has dragged on.”

He also spoke out against the potential use of nuclear weapons in Ukraine, a prospect that has been discussed in Russian media as the conflict appears to have come to a deadlock.

Lukashenko said using nuclear weapons in Ukraine was “unacceptable because it’s right next to us – we are not across the ocean like the United States.”

“It is also unacceptable because it might knock our terrestrial ball flying off the orbit to who knows where,” he said. “Whether or not Russia is capable of that is a question you need to ask the Russian leadership.”

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