On Tuesday, Russian President Vladimir Putin invited Jews facing anti-Semitism in Europe to return to Russia.
The comments, reported by the RBC, a Russian media outlet, took place during a meeting in Moscow with a delegation from the European Jewish Congress, which expressed concerns over the culture of anti-Semitism in Europe, “the worst since World War II,” said its president Viatcheslav Moshe Kantor. In reponse, Putin said: “During Soviet times they left, so let them return.”
Putin then made a “come here” gesture with his forefinger and, in an uncharacteristically gentle manner, instructed the Jewish delegation and the Jews of Europe, saying: “Here, to us. They should come to us.”
‘That is a fundamentally new idea,” said a surprised Kantor, who reportedly showed signs of experiencing visible difficulties in containing his laughter. All six fellow Jewish delegates sitting around Kantor likewise giggled.
“I have seen those reports of the situation in European countries and of people even attempting to hide their nationality,” said Putin. “People are even afraid of wearing their Kippah in public.”
The Russian President added that the situation of Russian Jews was currently the best of any place in Europe.
This would be far from the first time that Putin has made such comments at a Jewish gathering. In July of 2014 he thanked a gathering of prominent Israeli and European rabbis for what he categorized as their “help in Russia’s fight against the revival of Nazism.” In fact, Putin’s magnanimous offer was the latest gambit in the contentious leveraging of the issue of anti-Semitism in the continuing Russian-Ukrainian conflict.
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Vladislav Davidzon is Tablet’s European culture correspondent and a Russian-American writer, translator, and critic. He is the Chief Editor of The Odessa Review and a Non-Resident Fellow at the Atlantic Council. He was born in Tashkent, Uzbekistan, and lives in Paris.