'Ignorant & Foolish': Israel's FM Lapid Rebuked for Anti-Russian Comments
06:45 GMT 03.05.2022 (Updated: 17:25 GMT 15.01.2023)
© AFP 2023 / EMMANUEL DUNANDIsraeli alternate Prime Minister and Foreign Minister Yair Lapid arrives for a photo at the President's residence during a ceremony for the new coalition government in Jerusalem, on June 14, 2021. - A motley alliance of Israeli parties on June 13 ended Benjamin Netanyahu's 12 straight years as prime minister, as parliament voted in a new government led by his former ally, right-wing Jewish nationalist Naftali Bennett.
© AFP 2023 / EMMANUEL DUNAND
For years, Israel has seen Russia as a state that helped to mediate between the Jewish state and the Palestinians, as well as keeping Syria and Lebanon's Hezbollah at bay. This is the reason many Israelis are now worried that their foreign minister's remarks will hurt ties between officials in Jerusalem and Moscow.
Monday witnessed a diplomatic storm brewing in Israel after Russia's Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov made comments about Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky and Adolf Hitler.
Speaking to an Italian news outlet on Sunday, Lavrov refuted allegations that Ukraine, where his country is at present conducting a military operation, was free of Nazism solely because its president, Volodymyr Zelensky, is Jewish.
“Zelensky’s argument is: How can there be Nazism in Ukraine if he is a Jew? I may be mistaken but Adolf Hitler had Jewish blood, too. This means absolutely nothing. The wise Jewish people say that the most ardent anti-Semites are usually Jews," Lavrov said.
The comments have triggered a wave of criticism among Israel's political establishment. The country's Foreign Minister Yair Lapid has summoned Russia's envoy to the nation. He also released an official statement, hauling his counterpart over the coals for his stance.
"Foreign Minister Lavrov's remarks are both unforgivable and outrageous, and a terrible historical error," he wrote on Twitter. "The Jews did not murder themselves in the Holocaust. The lowest level of racism against the Jews is to accuse them of being anti-semitic," he added.
Ignorant and Full of Double Standards?
Lapid's comments were welcomed by some Israelis, who said their country should be taking a more aggressive approach against Russia and its military operation in Ukraine. But the majority on Twitter rebuked Lapid, calling him to account for his own ignorance and double standards.
"Let's put it this way ... [Lapid] is not the sharpest tool in the shed," said one tweet, referring to Lapid's comments last year when he redefined anti-semitism, expanding it to other ethnic groups and minorities including the slaves from Africa, the Tutsi tribe in Rwanda or the LGBT community.
"As an alternating prime minister, you said things that were much more horrible than these. You compared anti-semitism to any possible conflict in the world. So if you're going to condemn Lavrov, condemn yourself first," wrote another.
Another one added: "And what about the anti-semitism of Abu Mazen [Palestinian leader Mahmoud Abbas]? Or of Muslims on the Temple Mount? Have you summoned them too? Please, stop acting foolishly".
However, for many Israelis it is not only Lapid's double standards that have been a source of concern, and some have also criticised the FM for ruining Israel's relations with international players.
"Yair, I have a question. Why don't you use Twitter to tell all countries in the world that Israel is cutting off its relations with them? It will make your work easier and you will be able to go on vacation twice a month" wrote a critic on Twitter.
"You have destroyed our relations with almost every country. You came to repair, hey? Disappear already," tweeted another.
Since Lapid took office in June 2021, his name has been linked to a number of international crises. Last June, he angered the Chinese authorities after he cracked under American pressure and condemned Beijing for its alleged human rights abuses of the Uyghur minority.
In August that year he admonished Poland for passing a law that prevented ancestors of Jewish Holocaust victims from reclaiming property that had been confiscated during the Second World War, alleging that Warsaw was "anti-semitic" and "undemocratic".
A month later, he angered the Dubai authorities when he skipped a meeting with the Emirate's business people during his first official trip to the UAE. And more recently he took the American side in the Ukrainian conflict, slamming Russia for its operation in the country.
An End to Good Ties?
Monday's remarks seem to be hammering yet another nail into the coffin of relations between the two nations, and this is unnerving some Israelis.
"You are getting us into trouble, if you haven't done that already. Israel is hardly a dot on the map, and you and your friends are bloated with self importance ... people will die [because of you] in vain," added another.
What Israelis are concerned about is the threat on its northern borders, specifically Syria and Lebanon's Shiite militia Hezbollah. Russia enjoys strong ties with the two Arab nations and has often been viewed in Israel as a protector. As such, officials in Jerusalem refrained from angering Moscow. They have also been trying to maintain friendly terms because of Russia's mediation efforts between Israel and the Palestinians.
But now, as Israel steps up its anti-Russian rhetoric, chances that Moscow will come to the rescue of the Jewish state, if the need should arise, seem to be decreasing.