Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky has been criticised by some Israeli politicians after delivering a speech to the Knesset in which he compared the actions of the Kremlin with the Nazi “final solution”.
In a 12 minute-long speech, in which he referenced the “people of Israel” several times, Zelensky also drew flack after saying: “Ukrainians made their choice 80 years ago, we saved Jews, and there are among us righteous gentiles.”
After Sunday’s speech – the latest in a series of pleas made by Zelensky to politicians across the globe including the UK’s parliament – one Likud MK Yuval Steinitz said the president’s message “borders on Holocaust denial.”
Zelensky, who is Jewish, made it clear he was aware of the sensitivity of Holocaust analogies in his speech, but suggested they were justified.
His speech to Israeli MKs on Zoom was also broadcast live, including in downtown Tel Aviv, where crowds of supporters cheered and waved the flag of Ukraine.
Addressing his use of the Holocaust comparison Zelensky said:”Our history and your history. Our war for our survival and World War II.
“Listen to what the Kremlin says. Just listen! There are even terms that sounded then.
“And this is a tragedy. When the Nazi party raided Europe and wanted to destroy everything, destroy everyone, wanted to conquer the nations.
“And leave nothing from us, nothing from you.
“Even the name and the trace. They called it ‘the final solution to the Jewish issue’. You remember that? And I’m sure you will never forget!
“But listen to what is sounding now in Moscow.
“Hear how these words are said again: ‘Final solution’. But already in relation, so to speak, to us, to the ‘Ukrainian issue’.”
He added:”All the things that Russia is wickedly destroying while the world watches, so I can make this parallel, this comparison of our history to yours. … They didn’t want to leave any remnant of you and now they don’t want to leave any remnant of us.”
Speaking directly to his Israeli audience, Zelensky then referenced what he said had been the Ukranian people’s choice to save Jews from the German Nazis.
He then said:” The people of Israel, you also now have a choice.”
Ukrainian history confirms some did indeed rescue Jews, but there are also countless examples of collaboration with the Nazis.
Collaborators also played a notable role at the Babyn Yar massacre site – fuelling further criticism of Zelensky’s remarks in his latest speech.
At the outset of the speech Zelensky thanked Bennett’s government for its support of Ukraine – but he said he did not understand what the calculus was of the Israeli government, which has held back in forcefully condemning Russia and has resisted calls for more assistance.
“What is this, apathy, calculation, or mediation without picking a side?” he said. “I leave the answers to you, but I want to emphasize, apathy kills, calculations can be wrong, one may mediate between countries but not between good and evil.”
Israeli Foreign Minister Yair Lapid thanked Zelensky after the speech but suggested that assistance would come in the form of humanitarian aid and in allowing in greater number of Ukrainian refugees.
“We will continue to assist the Ukrainian people as much as we can, and we will never turn our back on people who know the horrors of war,” Lapid said on Twitter.
Several MKs harshly criticised Zelensky for drawing comparisons between the Holocaust and Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, and for seemingly ignoring some Ukrainians’ complicity in the Nazi-led genocide.
“I admire the Ukraine president and support the Ukrainian people in heart and deed, but the terrible history of the Holocaust cannot be rewritten,” Communications Minister Yoaz Hendel tweeted.
Likud MK Yuval Steinitz said it “borders on Holocaust denial.”
“War is always a terrible thing… but every comparison between a regular war, as difficult as it is, and the extermination of millions of Jews in gas chambers in the framework of the Final Solution is a complete distortion of history,” he said in a statement.
Religious Zionism MKs also criticised Zelensky, with the far-right opposition party’s leader, Bezalel Smotrich, slamming the Holocaust comparisons and accusing the Ukrainian leader of trying “to rewrite history and erase the involvement of the Ukrainian people in the extermination of Jews.”
Religious Zionism MK Simcha Rotman rejected Zelensky’s request that Israel treat Ukrainians the same way Zelensky claimed Ukraine treated Jews during the Holocaust.
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