Israel tells Russia to not lecture it on Holocaust memory, in spat over envoy remarks

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The Foreign Ministry has told Russia not to lecture Israel on the value of Holocaust memory amid a row over remarks made by Ambassador to Ukraine Michael Brodsky regarding World War II Ukrainian resistance fighters who were allied with the Nazis.

Russia’s Foreign Ministry had said its Israeli counterpart has “a problem” with Brodsky for saying that Ukraine has the right to see the resistance fighters as heroes.

The spat began on Thursday when Brodsky gave an interview with Israeli Russian-language channel Iton TV to discuss Israel’s support for Ukraine in the face of the ongoing Russian invasion and occupation of some of its territory.

At one point, he spoke about Roman Shukhevych and Stepan Bandera, two Ukrainian militia leaders who sided with Nazi Germany against the Soviet Union during the war. Their troops are believed to have killed thousands of Jews during the Holocaust, but they are venerated by many in Ukraine for opposing the Soviets.

Brodsky said Israel doesn’t like that the two are role models but conceded that “for most Ukrainians, these are heroes who fought for their independence.”

Russian Foreign Ministry spokesperson Maria Zakharova responded on Telegram by accusing Brodsky of “glorifying Nazism.”

“If the Soviet soldiers thought the same thing, today no Brodsky would exist, as well as any memory of the Holocaust,” she wrote.

Russian Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Maria Zakharova attends a news conference in Moscow, Russia, January 18, 2023. (Alexander Zemlianichenko/AP)

“No one has the right to have such heroes [as Bandera, Shukhevych, Melnyk],” Zakharova said, referring also to Andriy Melnyk, another leader who was connected to military units that collaborated with the Nazis. “These were not heroes, but demons, and this was not an identity, but a disgrace for the people of Ukraine.”

“If in Brodsky’s opinion Kyiv has the right to heroes like that, then it is a problem for the Israeli Foreign Ministry,” Zakharova said.

Israel’s Foreign Ministry Spokesperson Lior Haiat responded on Twitter, writing, “There is no change in Israel’s policy, which is absolutely opposed to and rejects the glorification of criminals who collaborated with the Nazis in murdering Jews.”

“No party should lecture the State of Israel, Israel’s Foreign Ministry, or its diplomats about the importance of preserving the memory of the Holocaust or about the war on historical distortion.”

Russia, which launched its invasion of Ukraine last year, says that the purpose of the military operation is to root out Nazi elements in Ukraine. Ukraine’s Western allies reject the claim as unfounded.

The glorification of resistance fighters who cooperated with the Nazis and who are accused of murdering Jews has been a point of contention between Israel and Ukraine in the past. Poland has also raised objections.

In 2020 a Ukrainian diplomat told Israel to stay out of the debate after Israel’s then ambassador to Ukraine, Joel Lion, and his Polish counterpart Bartosz Cichocki wrote officials an open letter condemning the government-sponsored honoring of Bandera and Melnyk.

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