Israeli Foreign Minister Yair Lapid on Monday slammed his Russian counterpart Sergei Lavrov for alleging Adolf Hitler may have "had Jewish blood" and summoned Moscow's ambassador for "clarifications".
Since Russia's invasion of Ukraine on February 24, Israel has sought to keep a delicate balance between the two sides, but remarks by Lavrov to an Italian channel sparked anger in Israel.
Moscow has previously said it wants to "de-militarise" and "de-Nazify" Ukraine.
Lavrov, speaking to Italian outlet Mediaset's Rete 4 channel in an interview released Sunday, claimed that Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky "puts forward an argument of what kind of Nazism can they have if he himself is Jewish".
Lavrov, according to a transcript posted on the Russian foreign ministry website, then added: "I could be wrong, but Hitler also had Jewish blood".
Lapid condemned the remarks as "an unforgivable and outrageous statement as well as a terrible historical error", in a statement from the foreign ministry.
"Jews did not murder themselves in the Holocaust," he said. "The lowest level of racism against Jews is to accuse Jews themselves of antisemitism."
The Russian Ambassador to Israel has been summoned for a "clarification meeting", the statement added.
Prime Minister Naftali Bennett also denounced Lavrov's "lies" that he said effectively "accuse the Jews themselves of the most awful crimes in history", perpetrated against themselves.
"No war in our time is like the Holocaust or is comparable to the Holocaust," Bennett said in a statement. "The use of the Holocaust of the Jewish people as a political tool must cease immediately."
Dani Dayan, director of Yad Vashem, the World Holocaust Remembrance Center in Israel, also criticised Lavrov's comments as "unfounded, delusional and dangerous remarks which deserve to be condemned".
- 'No words' -
Zelensky, who himself drew criticism from some Israeli officials in March for comparing Russian aggression in Ukraine to the Holocaust, addressed Lavrov's comments in his nightly address on Tuesday.
"These words mean that Russia's top diplomat is blaming the Jewish people for Nazi crimes," he said. "No words."
Zelensky has previously called on Israel to "make a choice" by supporting Ukraine against Russia and has asked the Jewish state to provide weapons.
Israel has provided helmets and bulletproof vests to Ukrainian rescue workers, but has not recently supplied the country with weapons, Israeli officials say.
Bennett in particular has walked a careful diplomatic line since the invasion, stressing Israel's strong ties to both Moscow and Kyiv.
He has sought to preserve delicate security cooperation with Russia, which has troops in Syria, across Israel's northern border.
"The question is will the Israeli ambassador stay in Moscow knowing their new position?" said Zelensky in his Tuesday address.
"Will relations with Russia remain as usual? Because (Lavrov's remarks are) not accidental."
Ukrainian Foreign Minister Dmytro Kuleba said in a tweet that Lavrov's comments illustrate "deeply rooted antisemitism of the Russian elites".
"They demonstrate that today's Russia is full of hatred towards other nations," he wrote.
- 'Cruelly deranged' -
The United States, which has led international support for Ukraine, called Kyiv "a valued partner" against antisemitism.
"To invoke the lie of 'denazification' in Ukraine, a country with a Jewish president and a significant Jewish population living in peace among their fellow citizens, is baseless and cruelly deranged," the office of the State Department envoy on combatting antisemitism wrote on Twitter.
"It is incumbent on the world to speak out against such vile, dangerous rhetoric and support our Ukrainian partners in the face of the Kremlin’s vicious assault," US Secretary of State Antony Blinken tweeted later.
In Berlin, German government spokesman Steffen Hebestreit told reporters: "I think the Russian propaganda being spread here by Foreign Minister Lavrov needs no comment -– it's absurd".
Italy's Prime Minister Mario Draghi condemned Lavrov's remarks as "truly obscene".