Lavrov’s ‘anti-Semitic’ remarks

In the past couple of days, there were two major diplomatic scandals at the international level. One concerns the Ukrainian ambassador to Berlin, who grossly insulted the Chancellor.  The other concerns Russian Minister of Foreign Affairs Sergei Lavrov’s offhand remarks in an interview regarding anti-Semitism, which immediately riled the political establishment in Israel. Though both incidents have been featured in news bulletins, neither has been approached from the angle of investigative journalism.

When Ambassador Andrij Melnyk accused Olaf Scholz of behaving like “an offended liver sausage” for refusing to visit Kyiv, that caught the attention of not only German media, but global media. The term “offended liver sausage” may have seemed peculiar to English speakers, but it clearly was not meant as a compliment.

The Daily Beast went further than most of the press in identifying the term as a German colloquialism “commonly employed to describe someone as a prima donna.” They connected this insult to the head of government with a tit-for-tat by the Chancellor:  in the preceding month, Zelensky had refused to receive German head of state Frank-Walter Steinmeier because of his past close ties to Moscow and this motivated Scholz’s decision not to go.

However, the nominally investigative journalists of The Daily Beast looked no further. Neither this paper nor mainstream has asked and then answered persuasively why Kiev would intentionally offend the most powerful country within the EU, upon whom it greatly depends for military and economic assistance. Some put it down to the ambassador’s personal views. Others are simply confounded.  No one has considered that the spat Kiev’s man on the spot has initiated with Scholz might be a calculated intervention in German domestic politics, with a view to pushing the indecisive Scholz out of power.  The Chancellor is known to be under threat from other members of his own party and from coalition partners who would gladly replace him with someone more committed to helping the Ukrainian cause with action and not just words.

The case of Lavrov’s remarks about Jews and anti-Semitism has received even less penetrating analysis.  He is quoted in the press as having said that Hitler also had Jewish blood and that the worst anti-Semites are found among Jews.  These words were instantly denounced by the Israeli government, which called for an apology.

The Western press was equally quick to remark how Lavrov had precipitated what can only be a cooling of relations with Israel. Jerusalem would now surely abandon its claims to be an honest broker and would align itself more closely with Kiev. In Washington and London, editors were gleeful.

However, no one asked the question which begs to be addressed: how, why would Sergei Lavrov, who is surely the most experienced diplomat on the world stage, make remarks that could only do damage to Russian-Israeli relations?

I admit that there is an innocuous explanation. Lavrov intended his words as a counter to Western denial that Kiev is a Nazi-dominated regime on grounds that President Zelensky himself is Jewish. But Lavrov had to be aware how Jerusalem would react to his words, so we should look further.

Let me hazard a guess.  Lavrov knew well what he was doing and probably had discussed this subject with his boss, Vladimir Vladimirovich, before he opened his mouth.

The Russians are very dissatisfied with Israel over its past military cooperation with Ukraine, and Lavrov’s statement was only the opening round. If we go back to the very first days of Russia’s ‘special military operation,’ when they took control of the Zaporozhye nuclear power station and seized there documents relating to Ukraine’s efforts to build a ‘dirty nuclear weapon,’ the Russian Ministry of Defense announced that there were foreign enablers active there.  Then the next day, unexpectedly and in great haste, Israeli Prime Minister Bennett flew to Moscow for unscheduled talks with Putin.  Almost nothing was disclosed about the subject of their talks. But subsequently the foreign enablers were never identified by the Russians.

Though I have been praised by some readers for avoiding ‘speculation,’ I will permit myself just this once to speculate:  it is not inconceivable that the Israelis were among the key advisers to Kiev on its program to build nuclear weapons.  If that is so, we may expect Russian-Israeli relations to get a lot worse in the coming weeks and months.

©Gilbert Doctorow, 2022

34 thoughts on “Lavrov’s ‘anti-Semitic’ remarks

  1. I followed Lavrov’s interview on Italian TV. It was obvious that the questions had been prepared and given in advance to Lavrov in what was described as a “conference” rather than an interview (nobody contradicted him or probed his answers, and in the end the journalist wished him good work, something for which he was much criticised). Therefore I agree that Lavrov had probably had the time to discuss what he was going to say. I don’t have the knowledge to speculate his motivations. One thing I can say is that among Russian friends or filo-Russians, I should say, the issue of Zelensky not being a Nazi because he’s Jewish is often received with a shrug of the shoulders and the comment that there were Jews policing the concentration camps. Or that being Jew does not automatically cleanse you from Nazi sentiments. Of course in the whole story I’m a bit confused by the label of nazism being freely used.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. A couple of days ago the Russian government, media and many representatives of civil society marked the 8th anniversary of the murderous attack on Russian speakers in Odessa who protested the coup d’etat in Kiev of February 2014 and were burned alive in the Trade Unions building. The event was totally ignored in Western media just as the atrocity was ignored after it happened, and no investigation was conducted by Ukrainian authorities. If you should find video reports on that tragic event and see the animals in human form who carried it out under symbols of neo-Nazism, you would not have doubts about the validity of the Russian accusations of Nazism behind the present day Kiev regime. It was Chancellor Scholz’s describing as “laughable” Vladimir Putin’s remarks on the Nazism rampant in Ukraine that put German-Russian relations on their present hostile course.

      Liked by 2 people

    2. Nazism is first and foremost associated at least in America with violent anti-semitism and death camps. The Russian associations with Nazism are not quite the same, and revolve more around Nazi depredations against ethnic Slavs during WW2. Ukrainian “nazism” is not a primarily anti-Semitic phenomenon. It is mostly a chauvinist Ukrainian nationalism revolving around treating Bandera as a hero trying to establish an independent non-communist Ukrainian state.

      So it is perfectly possible that to Americans (and I assume Western Europeans) claims of Nazism in Ukraine are indeed risible, because the leader of the country is openly ethnically Jewish. But to Russians those claims are valid because to Russians, Nazism is not primarily related to anti-semitism. Russians see Nazi and Nazi-adjacent imagery integrated into elements of the Ukrainian military, portraits of Bandera hanging in government officials’ offices, and are deeply deeply offended. All the more so because they view Ukrainians as having been a huge constituent part of the Soviet Union and of the Soviet war effort against Germany. There is a sense of “how can you of all nationalities put up with this disrespect for the enormous sacrifice and suffering of your own ancestors?”

      I am sympathetic to the Russian position, and honestly don’t understand how Eastern Ukrainians for example can be ok with Nazi imagery anywhere close to positions of state authority.


  2. Also, Russia’s having to tip-toe around Israel illustrates Russia’s difficult geopolitical position compared to the United States. In the Middle East, Russia is partially allied with Iran, but also depends on the goodwill of Saudi Arabia and the UAE to keep OPEC+ together. It was probably a very pleasant surprise for Russia that the gulf states turned out to supportive of Russia during the past 2 months, despite huge pressure from the USA. But this shows the complicated position Russia is in. It cannot “get back” at the USA or Israel by sending S-300s or S-400s to Iran, because this would also hugely anger the Gulf States, upon which Russia counts for economic and diplomatic support. Right now the Middle East is primarily divided into an Iran axis and a Gulf State axis, with Israel informally but increasingly closely allied with the Gulf States. I would argue that Israel or even the USA are not the prime movers in the region anymore. It’s Gulf states vs Iran. And Russia cannot make a choice, one or the other.

    Similarly, Russia cannot get too close to India for fear of alienating China, and vice versa. China is definitely the more important partner for Russia, but Chinese support is frankly tepid, and Russia cannot rely on China alone.

    This is the problem with not having close allies. Russia has a lot of friends but they are not very close. At least compared the very tight relationships within the “Blue Empire”, USA + Nato + Japan + s Korea + 5 Eyes.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. You’re comparing relationships between sovereign (or at least close to it) friends versus the relationship between a master and his vassals?


      1. Also, if you think Russia has to appease the Gulf States, remember what happened in the short but sweet oil war of early ‘20. He who produces the marginal oil barrel dictates the terms, and Russia is the producer of that marginal barrel.


      2. I think it’s a mistake to call the “Blue Empire” (greater West alliance) dynamics master and vassal at this point. The EU countries have been leading the charge on anti-Russian sanctions. There is a visceral anger & disbelief in Europe about the Russian invasion, that is not driven by the USA.

        Also, for example, Japan has been very aggressively supportive of Russia sanctions, and Japanese domestic tv news is to this day full of stories of Ukrainian suffering. In the Japanese case, I suspect this is the governing LDP looking for justification and domestic support to finally jettison Japanese pacifism. Sure enough, when Japan announced a 2% of GDP target for defense spending, Japanese tv after a short lull was once again full of Ukraine war stories. This isn’t to get brownie points in washington, this is a domestic issue that the LDP has been pushing for decades. Japan also sees a lot of money to be made and societal dynamism to be gained through reshoring manufacturing from China, with the weak yen and talk of Japan becoming a Western World manufacturing hub again.

        Lots of dynamics at play and way more complicated than vassals following whatever Washington says.


  3. Ukrainian nationalism revolving around ……. Bandera

    Of course little seems to be known about the fact that even more than antisemitism, anti-slavism was a mainspring of the German Nazi ideology. After all, as part of Generalplan Ost about 15 to 20 Million Slavs were killed during WW2 in occupied countries, compared to “just” 4 to 6 million Jews.

    As to antisemitism and hyper-nationalism by the OUN and UPA and Bandera I like to point to this study, well-evidenced:

    Just a sample:
    “The OUN cooperated closely with other fascist states and movements—Italy, Japan,
    Spain, and, in particular, Germany. It established contacts with the Iron Guard in Romania
    and later the Chetnik leader Draža Mihailović.44 The OUN’s relations with the Ustaše were
    close; the organizations trained their terrorists together in Fascist Italy. The OUN assassinated
    several leading Polish politicians, among them Tadeusz Hołowko in 1931 and Bronisław
    Pieracki in 1934, and provided the Ustaše assistance in the assassination of King Alexander
    I of Yugoslavia and the French foreign minister, Louis Barthou, in 1934.45”

    Liked by 1 person

  4. Thank you both for your answers. I think Sean nailed it, and it is not surprising that for the average person the label of Nazism applied to Ukraine is puzzling. I think the media could do a better job explaining these notions, but maybe it is not in their interest. A while back there was an article in the Corriere della Sera devoted to the Azov Battalion. Words were cautious but I thought the author had a really hard time trying to explain the affiliations of this group without being censored. But then again Italy is not the UK. There is a large filo-Russian majority even now in Parliament and in 2014 Italy spoke against sanctions to Russia. Times are different now but the audience remains more willing to see the other side.

    Liked by 1 person

  5. Quick note on the “offended liver sausage” comment – that’s a literal translation of the German expression “beleidigte Leberwurst” (“beleidigt” meaning either offended or insulted), but with the undertone of the person designated such as sulking over a perceived insult or slight even though there might not be an actual reason for it.

    As you correctly surmise, this is anything but a compliment and not language/an expression I would expect an ambassador to call anyone in an professional setting.


  6. “The wise Jewish people say that the most ardent anti-Semites are usually Jews.”

    And that is how Bennet (don’t want to dignify this idiot even with an honorary Mister) responds?:

    “Jews were “the biggest antisemites.” How do you get from Lavrov’s statement to that? Simply, it is called propaganda.

    And to top it off:

    “The goal of such lies is to accuse the Jews themselves of the most awful crimes in history, which were perpetrated against them, and thereby absolve Israel’s enemies of responsibility.”

    The guy for propaganda reasons conflates antisemitism with violent actions. Antisemitism is just that: a negative stance towards Jewish culture and Jewish religion.
    Jewish race it cannot be, that does not exist (follow the newest genetic research and the general useless concept of race which is based on politics but not biology)
    It for sure does not mean necessarily violent action.

    “both an unforgivable and outrageous statement as well as a terrible historical error.”

    only that if you are a propagandist like Bennet

    Liked by 1 person

  7. There is an interesting article on this on Moon of Alabama, seems Lavrov might have been correct regarding Hitler’s Jewish ancestry after all:

    I don’t see any problem with his remarks, anyway. Israel is a fascist rogue state, everyone knows that, although only few will say it because of the whole antisemitism shitstorm scare business that Israel loves to use in order to silence critics of its genocide and land/water/oil theft. There is no contradiction, a lot of Israelis are Nazis, else they would not have the regime they have. After all, it is a democracy with elections. (Similar to Nazi Germany back in the days.)
    And many modern Israelis are not Semites to begin with, but basically Germans, Russians, Poles etc., just look at their names and physiognomy. And those are the most anti-Semitic Israelis, they love to steal the land of real Semites (Palestinians, Arabs).

    Liked by 1 person

  8. Have you considered that Lavrov’s comment could be aimed at home-grown antisemitism.
    Whatever the reason it probably reminds outsiders of some very unpleasant Russian history:
    1) Russia was pro-Nazi before they were anti-Nazi. Russia signed the Treaty of Non-Aggression with Nazi Germany. Russia attacked Poland less than a month thereafter and later attacked Finland, the Baltic states and Romania.
    2) Russia “rebranded” WW II as the Great Patriotic War and used a starting date of the Nazi invasion of Russia rather than the Nazi invasion of Poland, almost two years earlier.
    3) Ukrainians generally sided with the Nazi Germany as they viewed Hitler as less blood thirsty than Stalin.
    4) Ukraine was subjected to the Holodomor or Terror Famine at the hands of Stalin in 1932-33 which killed 3 to 7 million Ukranians. Along with periodic purges, Ukraine rightfully considered Stalin the greater threat to Ukraine.
    5) Stalin conducted periodic forced resettlement AKA genocide against various groups. One of these groups were the Tatars in Crimea and eastern Ukraine. Stalin/USSR/Russia created the ethnic Russian enclaves they are currently “liberating” by good old-fashioned ethnic cleansing.
    Personally, if I was Lavrov, I would avoid anything that might dredge up any of Russia’s history of mistreatment of ethnic or other groups.


    1. Without much ado… You’re wrong (deceitful in fact) on each and every of these counts, but you’re forgiven considering that Hollywood made you unable to distinguished Russians from Soviets, for starters, as well as crushed your sense on turning on timer at the moment when it would be actually honest, not just when is convenient.

      1) Russia was neither pro-Nazi nor anti-Nazi as it didn’t exist at that time, it was USSR, and that “Soyuz” was inherently anti-Russian. Every single commie leader at the time was full of hatred toward Russian culture, tradition and people in general. It is interesting how you call for “some very unpleasant Russian history”, using cherry picked dates to “explain” certain events, without daring to provide more details on that. For instance, you failed to mention Munich Agreement in 1938 and how Poland was feeling just fine while butchering neighboring Czechoslovakia (Czechia precisely), together with the very same Nazi Germany and Hitler, who shook hands with his greatest admirer Neville Chamberlain, then Daladier, and of course Mussolini. So Poland, UK and France (together with Hungary, Romania, Slovakia) were actually, by your own metric, pro-Nazi long before Molotov signed that non-aggression paper with Ribbentrop full year after Munich.
      However, I suppose, there is nothing unpleasant there for those fine English and French gentlemen.

      2) There is no rebranding here. The Great Patriotic War is exactly that, more than the World War, an extension to the original Patriotic War from 1812, that started so well for Napoleon but ended up with Tzar Alexander entering Paris. Hitler followed the same recipe, hoping for the best, but ended with the same cooking disaster. Einstein 101? That is the reason why they “cancelled” immortal Tchaikovsky a month ago. When he realized that sending Russians into gulags is not good idea, while Adolf was just two traffic lights to Moscow, comrade Koba turned them 180 degrees and ask pure Russian souls to do what they do the best, better than anyone else – fighting for Rodina, their Motherland. GPW is called that simply for the fact that 20 million Russians and 7 million other people from USSR sacrifice their lives to defeat Nazis. Everybody else just helped a bit, but not enough to send Hitler to hell without Russian love for their land.

      3) You can desperately hang on Russophobia as much as you want, Ukrainians are not historical nation, but rather exonymic group of converts, whose identity is not formed on what or who they are, but on what they’re not. And they say it themselves – they’re not Russians. That’s all they know. There is no song, no novel, no music worth mentioning that is “Ukrainian”. Group identity that is prevalent nowadays, and used as fuel against ethnic Russians or Russian speaking people (which is majority, including Elensky) is russophobia. You take it away from the foundation of that identity, there is nothing else to hold, it crumbles. So hard core Ukrainians will side with devil himself, in fact anyone who is against Russia, not because Hitler was “less blood thirsty” (oh boy.. “human stupidity and cosmos are indefinite.. although not sure about the later”). BTW, those Ukrainians are from Galicia, which will, in the distant future, likely go back to Poland where it belongs.

      4) So called “Ukrainian Holodomor” is debunked so long ago, so badly, that only ignorant fool might dare to use it as an “argument”. I’ll leave it there, for now, but should you decide to educate yourself please be my guest.

      5) Lenin, Stalin, Khrushchev, Brezhnev, all of them Russian haters, didn’t do anything that would be beneficial for Russians. In fact, Lenin took huge piece of Russian land, the Donbas among other, that was originally Novo-Serbian settlement under Katherine the Great, around 1750, and assigned it to Ukraine in early 1920’s, while Nikita did the same with Crimea in 1954. Stalin shaved Russian orthodox priests by pulling their beards, demolished monasteries to oblivion, and threw clergy into ice covered rivers. Ivan Denisovich said the rest of the story.

      Personally, if I were you, and thank God I’m not, I’d keep my mouth shut and go into some Azov “style” underground den for a month. As for Lavrov – there is nothing one can advice him with, as he’s the last living true diplomat who think twice before opening his mouth.

      Liked by 2 people

      1. “Personally, if I were you, and thank God I’m not, I’d keep my mouth shut and go into some Azov “style” underground den for a month”
        Why the insults just because someone does not agree with you?
        “Ukrainians are not historical nation”
        Ah that familiar refrain of colonialists everywhere
        “So Poland, UK and France (together with Hungary, Romania, Slovakia) were actually…”.
        With the possible exception of Denmark, it was a dirty war for everyone

        @GilbertDoctorow. You claim to be a “public intellectual”. If so I would encourage you not to remove my posts, which contrary to the one above, are always polite and factual.


    2. The USSR non-aggression pact with nazi Germany was a matter of playing for time. The USSR knew they would eventually be attacked. In one of Stalin’s speeches he says something like “We are 50 to 100 years behind the Western states. We have 10 years to make up that gap or they will crush us.” It was almost exactly 10 years after that when Germany attacked.

      Liked by 1 person

  9. Regarding the ‘offended liver sausage’ remark, you have to keep in mind things are a little different in DE, where it can be a crime to insult a politician — e.g. not too long ago, a person who called a politician (in Hamburg as I recall) a ‘Pimmel’ (rough English equivalent: prick, maybe wanker in the UK) had his house raided by police — they seized his electronic devices as evidence (this is common) — here is a story about it:

    BELEIDIGUNG AUF TWITTER — Kritik an Hamburgs Innensenator wegen Reaktion auf „Pimmel“-Tweet

    Apparently either the politician or someone else saw the tweet, and the police were notified.

    Things are taken seriously in DE that would not be taken seriously elsewhere — I didn’t follow this, but it probably ‘came to the attention of global media’ because of the (over-)reaction inside DE.

    Liked by 1 person

  10. Thank you for a very insightful article.

    I agree with your general perspective that Lavrov is a very shrewd diplomat who says things that he intends to say and does so in full knowledge of how others will react. Unlike Boris Johnson and the lamentable Liz Truss, who are clearly totally out of their depth in foreign affairs and are playing to a brainwashed domestic audience with cliches and sound bites from the 1940s.

    My understanding from a factual perspective though is that Hitler’s ancestry containing Jewish blood is purely an unproven speculation that was originally started by Frank in the 1930s and then repeated after his arrest by the Allies. It may or not be true and relates to the illegitimacy of his father. This may be why Lavrov qualified the statement too.

    The Nazi character of the Ukrainian regime seems far more certain though. With respect to the Nazis having co-opted Jews as collaborators then that also is a more proven path: Hannah Arendt in her “Banality of Evil” from the early 60s runs through the narrative country by country in great detail. She was, of course, herself a Holocaust victim as a German Jew who was forced to emigrate and also interned during the war. My understanding is that she was heavily criticised too for raising this taboo topic at that time. To raise it does not feel anti-Semitic to me. There were plenty of Christians killed by the Nazis, the Nazis fully intended to commit full genocide against Christian Slavs and they found large numbers of Christian collaborators in the process too. In the West we tend to focus on the Holocaust but forget the genocide perpetrated against Russian citizens that was never applied towards the West.

    Clearly, therefore, Zelensky does not get a free pass as being above reproach with respect to Nazism on account of his genealogy any more than anyone does, irrespective of origin. Lavrov is on very secure ground here and the emotional reaction shows that he hit a raw nerve. Which may well have been his intent. One suspects it is part of warning Israel that Russia is prepared to take them on if necessary.


  11. It would appear that Putin apologized to Bennett (according to Jerusalem).No word from Moscow. Fresh news from Repibblica


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