Russia has accused Israel of supporting what it calls the "neo-Nazi regime" in Ukraine, as bilateral tensions worsened following comments by foreign minister Sergei Lavrov on the Holocaust at the weekend deemed by Israel to be anti-Semitic.
Russia fiercely attacked Israel's foreign minister Yair Lapid for saying that Moscow must apologise to Jews for the remarks by Mr Lavrov in the interview with an Italian TV station, in which he said Adolf Hitler had Jewish blood and Jews were the biggest anti-Semites.
On Tuesday the Russian foreign ministry issued a statement saying that Mr Lapid’s statements were “anti-historical and to a large degree explained the reasons why the Israeli government supported the neo-Nazi regime in Kyiv”. The statement then went on to cite examples of Jews who had ostensibly collaborated with the Nazis during the Holocaust.
Israel, while expressing support for Ukraine and voting to condemn the Russian invasion at the United Nations, has tried to maintain a balanced stance, fearing that Moscow could limit its freedom to act in the air over Syria where, according to foreign media reports, it regularly strikes at Iranian-backed militia targets.
Israel is also concerned that a clear anti-Russian position could endanger the fate of the hundreds of thousands of Jews who live in Russia.
Although Israel has sent humanitarian aid to Ukraine and operated a field hospital in western Ukraine, it has to date refused Kyiv’s requests for military assistance.
Following Mr Lavrov's comments, Russia's ambassador was summoned to the foreign ministry in Jerusalem and Israel demanded an apology.
Prime minister Naftali Bennett said that “the aim of such lies is to blame the Jews themselves for the most terrible crimes in history that were committed against them, thus freeing the oppressors from responsibility” .
Several Western leaders also condemned Mr Lavrov's comments, including US secretary of state Antony Blinken, who said his "friend Yair Lapid put it perfectly".
“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,” Mr Blinken tweeted.
But Moscow on Tuesday stepped up the rhetoric, reiterating Mr Lavrov’s point that Ukranian president Volodymyr Zelenskiy’s Jewish origins did not preclude Ukraine from being run by neo-Nazis.
“Anti-Semitism in everyday life and in politics is not stopped, and is on the contrary nurtured [in Ukraine],” the Russian foreign ministry said.
Israel's health minister Nitzan Horowitz said that the Russian rhetoric that linked the invasion of Ukraine to the battle against Nazi Germany was a terrible lie.
“There is no neo-Nazi regime in Ukraine, Zelenskiy is not a Nazi and his Judaism is irrelevant. This is crude propaganda that disgraces the memory of the Holocaust, and Israel does indeed fully support Ukraine’s sovereignty against the vicious Russian invasion,” he said.
As the tension increased the Ha’artez newspaper reported that Israel is considering stepping up its assistance to Kyiv, and may send defensive systems to protect troops on the ground, personal combat gear and warning systems.