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May 4, 2022 1:43 pm
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Russia Steps Up Propaganda Offensive Targeting Israel Over Alleged Backing for Ukraine ‘Neo-Nazis’

avatar by Ben Cohen

Russian foreign ministry spokeswoman Maria Zakharova takes the stage at a March 2022 concert in Moscow celebrating the Russian annexation of Crimea. Photo: Reuters/Ramil Sitdikov

Russia’s foreign ministry stepped up its diplomatic offensive against Israel on Wednesday, with its spokeswoman claiming that Israeli mercenaries were fighting in Ukraine alongside a battalion linked with far-right extremists.

Speaking on the Sputnik radio station, the foreign ministry’s spokeswoman, Maria Zakharova, said she had a message for Israeli politicians already outraged by the comments of Sergei Lavrov, the Russian foreign minister, who told an Italian broadcaster last weekend that Adolf Hitler had “Jewish blood” and that “the most ardent antisemites are usually Jews.”

Said Zakharova: “I’ll say something that the very politicians in Israel who are now escalating the information campaign are unlikely to want to hear. Perhaps they will be interested. In Ukraine, Israeli mercenaries are actually shoulder to shoulder with the Azov militants.”

Zakharova added that she had seen videos of Israelis in combat alongside the Azov Battalion, whose volunteers are accused of promoting neo-Nazi and white supremacist ideology — a point that is disputed by the Ukrainian government. In an interview with Greek TV on Monday, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky stated that when the battalion was formed in 2014, to fight the Russian invasion of Crimea, it had harbored extremists, but this was no longer the case. The Azov Battalion was part of the “official army of our state,” Zelensky said.

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Speaking to Fox News on Wednesday, Zelensky, who is Jewish, accused Russia of “following the concept of [Nazi propagandist Joseph] Goebbels and they are using the same methodology, and the reaction I think is to weaken the world to these phrases of Lavrov.”

Nonetheless, angry reactions to Lavrov’s weekend interview continued to manifest on Wednesday. The response was particularly harsh in Italy, where his interview was first broadcast on Mediaset television.

Italian Prime Minister Mario Draghi described Lavrov’s comments as “obscene.”

Noting that “Minister Lavrov is from a country where there is no freedom of expression,” Draghi said that Italian citizens were able “to express their opinions freely, even when they are blatantly false, aberrant.”

Lavrov’s remarks were “aberrant,” Draghi said, emphasizing that “the part about Hitler was obscene.”

The Italian government’s top official tasked with combating antisemitism charged Lavrov with “a perverse and unacceptable falsification of reality.”

Milena Santerini said that Lavrov’s “manipulation of the truth” was a tried and tested tactic for antisemitic agitators. “Historically and today, it is one of the ways of justifying violence,” Santerini said.

Separately, the vice president of the Jewish community in Rome urged Italians to remember the long history of antisemitism in Russia when responding to Lavrov’s assertions.

“This is a story that begins with the false ‘Protocols of the Elders of Zion,’ a fabrication created from scratch by the Tsarist secret police, where it is written that the Jews plot to conquer the world and are the protagonists of the greatest atrocities,” Ruben Della Rocca told the news agency Agenpress.

Della Rocca also expressed frustration that Lavrov’s remarks were not challenged on air.

“The aggravating circumstance is that [the interview] resonated in the Italian media without contradiction,” he said. “It would have been enough for the interviewer to have distanced himself, as I would have done in the same position.”

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