Major US Jewish groups called on Russian President Vladimir Putin to clarify comments he made during an interview on an NBC broadcast Friday, claiming Jews could have been behind Russian meddling in the 2016 United States presidential election.
The American Jewish Committee and the Anti-Defamation League voiced deep concern over Putin’s remarks, saying they were reminiscent of the Protocols of the Elders of Zion.
“As the Russian government faces expanding evidence and new questions about possible meddling in US elections, President Putin bizarrely has resorted to the blame game by pointing the finger at Jews and other minorities in his country,” Jonathan Greenblatt, the CEO of the Anti-Defamation League, said on Sunday.
In the NBC interview, Putin said that he “could not care less” about indictments issued by US Special Counsel Robert Mueller, accusing Russian nationals and companies of election interference, stating: “They do not represent the interests of the Russian state” and are unrelated to the Kremlin.
“Maybe they’re not even Russians,” said Putin. “Maybe they’re Ukrainians, Tatars, Jews, just with Russian citizenship, even that needs to be checked.”
Greenblatt criticized the president for “giving new life to classic antisemitic stereotypes that have plagued his country for hundreds of years, with a comment that sounds as if it was ripped from the pages of the Protocols of the Elders of Zion.”
“We live in a moment when antisemitic violence is on the rise and words can have profound consequences, particularly when spoken by public figures or elected officials like President Putin. We hope he swiftly clarifies his words before they cause further damage to those communities he has singled out,” Greenblatt concluded.
The American Jewish Committee also said that the remarks reminded them of the infamous antisemitic book.
“President Putin suggesting that Russian Federation minorities, be they Ukrainian, Tatar, or Jewish, were behind US election meddling, is eerily reminiscent of the Protocols of the Elders of Zion. He should clarify his comments at the earliest opportunity,” the group wrote on Twitter.
The Protocols of the Elders of Zion was a Czarist forgery published in the early 20th century purporting to expose a Jewish conspiracy for world domination. The text, of an unknown author, was first published in Russia in 1903 and used as Nazi propaganda.
Senator Richard Blumenthal also condemned the comments on Twitter, writing: “Repulsive Putin remark deserves to be denounced, soundly and promptly, by world leaders. Why is [US President Donald] Trump silent? Intolerance is intolerable.”
Blumenthal’s father was a German Jewish immigrant to the US.
Malcolm Hoenlein, the executive vice chairman of the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations also called for Putin to issue a clarification.
“The comments, as reported, are very troubling and are reminiscent of false accusations in the past. President Putin has been close to the Jewish community in Russia and met often with representatives of other Jewish communities. We hope he will understand the importance of addressing this promptly,” Hoenlein told The Jerusalem Post.Eytan Halon and Avraham Gold contributed to this report.