MOSCOW (JTA) — Russian President Vladimir Putin thanked senior rabbis from Israel and Europe for what he called their help in Russia’s fight against the revival of Nazism.
Putin made the statement on Wednesday during a meeting in the Russian capital with over one dozen prominent rabbis, including Berel Lazar, a chief rabbi of Moscow, and Yitzchak Yosef and Israel Meir Lau, Israel’s Sephardic chief rabbi and former Ashkenazi chief rabbi, respectively.
“Of particular concern is the revival of Nazi ideas,” Putin told the delegation of rabbis, which included also Binyominn Jacobs, the chief inter-provincial rabbi of the Netherlands, and David Moshe Lieberman of Antwerp. “I want to thank the Jewish community, non-governmental organizations that are both active and courageous; we see it in today’s world – how a struggle is being uncompromisingly waged against all manifestations of the Nazi ideology and any attempts to revive it,” said Putin.
A Kremlin transcript of Putin’s address at the meeting did not specify where he saw Nazism being revived.
In the past, Putin has called the leaders of the revolution that toppled the regime of Ukrainian former president Viktor Yanukovych “Nazis” and “neo-Nazis,” and cited what he said was their anti-Semitism to justify Russia’s actions in Ukraine since March, when it annexed Crimea from its western neighbor.
Many Ukrainian Jewish leaders and the country’s government have dismissed these assertions, saying that the claims about anti-Semitism are being made for political purposes.
Putin also spoke out against Holocaust deniers, calling them “not only stupid, but also shameless.” He added: “Unfortunately, just like 70 years ago, this shamelessness often achieves its purposes. After all, [Joseph] Goebbels had said, ‘The more improbable the lie, the faster people believe it.’ And it worked out; he was a talented man,” Putin said in reference to Nazi Germany’s propaganda chef.
The meeting on Wednesday took place ahead of a Holocaust commemoration event scheduled for Thursday in the Crimean city of Sevastopol, which is organized by the local Jewish community in memory of over 4,000 Jews killed by German troops in July 1942.
The annual commemoration has taken place there since 1992, but this week will be the first time it has been held since the Russian annexation.
Noting that the Kremlin has shown an interest in Holocaust commemorations for the past 15 years, Rabbi Boruch Gorin, a senior aide to Lazar and chair of Moscow’s Jewish Museum and Tolerance Center, added that “There’s no denying that President Putin and the Kremlin want to demonstrate that anti-Semitism is not accepted and that everything is alright with the Jews there. And we don’t dispute that. We do our work. If it is used for diplomacy or propaganda — depends whom you ask – we’re not necessarily opposed. We think Jews in Crimea need to feel at ease and safe and stable, and prefer to stay out of politics.”