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Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov, in Moscow, on April 27.Yuri Kochetkov /The Associated Press

Israel lambasted Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov on Monday for claiming that Adolf Hitler had Jewish origins, saying it was an “unforgivable” falsehood that debased the horrors of the Nazi Holocaust.

In a signal of sharply deteriorating relations with Moscow, the Israeli foreign ministry summoned the Russian ambassador and demanded an apology.

“Such lies are intended to accuse the Jews themselves of the most horrific crimes in history that were committed against them,” Israeli Prime Minister Naftali Bennett said in a statement.

“The use of the Holocaust of the Jewish people for political purposes must stop immediately,” he added.

Lavrov made the assertion on Italian television on Sunday when he was asked why Russia said it needed to “denazify” Ukraine if the country’s own president, Volodymyr Zelensky, was himself Jewish.

“When they say ‘What sort of nazification is this if we are Jews’, well I think that Hitler also had Jewish origins, so it means nothing,” Lavrov told Rete 4 channel, speaking through an Italian interpreter.

“For a long time now we’ve been hearing the wise Jewish people say that the biggest anti-Semites are the Jews themselves,” he added.

Speaking at a press conference in Windsor, Ont., today, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau called Lavrov’s comments “ridiculous and unacceptable. The fact that Russia, as we’ve seen, has been peddling misinformation and disinformation has reached a point where it shouldn’t surprise us any more. But for what the Russian Foreign Minister just said, is unbelievable and Canada and all-right thinking countries around the world and Canadians and everyone who stands against the horrors of the Holocaust and the tremendously concerning rise in hate crimes, whether it be anti-Semitism or anti-Islamophobia or anti-Black racism, we need to stand condemning ever stronger, the ridiculous and unacceptable positions of Russia, even as we stand with Ukraine.”

Dani Dayan, chairman of Yad Vashem, Israel’s memorial to the six million Jews killed in the Holocaust, said the Russian minister’s remarks were “an insult and a severe blow to the victims of the real Nazism”.

Speaking on Kan radio, Dayan said Lavrov was spreading “an anti-Semitic conspiracy theory with no basis in fact”.

The identity of one of Hitler’s grandfathers is not known but there has been some speculation, never backed up by any evidence, that he might have been a Jew.

There was no immediate response for comment from the Russian embassy to Israel or from Lavrov in Moscow.

Kyiv condemned Lavrov’s words, saying his “heinous remarks” were offensive to Zelensky, to Israel, Ukraine and Jews.

“More broadly, they demonstrate that today’s Russia is full of hatred towards other nations,” Ukrainian Foreign Minister Dmytro Kuleba said on Twitter.

Israeli Foreign Ministry Yair Lapid, whose grandfather died in the Holocaust, said that accusing Jews of being anti-Semites was “the basest level of racism”. He also dismissed Lavrov’s assertion that pro-Nazi elements held sway over the Ukrainian government and military.

“The Ukrainians aren’t Nazis. Only the Nazis were Nazis and only they dealt with the systematic destruction of the Jewish people,” Lapid told the YNet news website.

Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau on Monday denounced Lavrov’s comments, saying they ‘are ridiculous and unacceptable.”

A German government spokesperson said the idea Hitler had Jewish heritage was “absurd” propaganda.

Israel has expressed repeated support for Ukraine following the Russian invasion in February. But wary of straining relations with Russia, a power broker in neighbouring Syria, it initially avoided direct criticism of Moscow and has not enforced formal sanctions on Russian oligarchs.

However, relations have grown more strained, with Lapid last month accusing Russia of committing war crimes in Ukraine.

However, the Ukrainian president has also run into flak in Israel by looking to draw analogies between the conflict in his country and World War Two. In an address to the Israeli parliament in March, Zelensky compared the Russian offensive in Ukraine to Nazi Germany’s plan to murder all Jews within its reach during World War Two.

Yad Vashem called his comments “irresponsible,” saying they trivialized the historical facts of the Holocaust.

- with a file from Marieke Walsh.

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