(photo credit: REUTERS)
One of Russia’s most popular news outlets has accused President Vladimir Putin of being disingenuous in inviting Western European Jews concerned about anti-Semitism to take refuge in the former Soviet Union, stating there is little to no chance such a migration would ever take place.
In an editorial published shortly after Putin’s invitation to a delegation of Jewish leaders, translated this week by the Middle East Media Research Institute, gazeta.ru averred that the proposal “appeared to be a joke” that some might find “odd and even inappropriate, considering that the Jews left the Soviet Union in desperation, fleeing the ‘fifth clause,’ which identified them [as Jews] in their internal passports, the unspoken ban [on Jews] in many universities and certain governmental positions, as well as other expressions of anti-Semitic official policy.”
Speaking with representatives of the European Jewish Congress last month, including representatives of British and French Jewry, Putin reacted to reports of stark increases in anti-Semitic violence by stating that Jews “should come here, to Russia. They left the Soviet Union; now they should come back.”
While Jewish communal leaders praised Putin for his stance on anti-Semitism, there was little to no indication that such an invitation would ever gain any significant traction.
“Vladimir Putin’s offer was perhaps well-meaning, but personally I’m absolutely not interested,” said one Russian-Jewish emigré interviewed by RFERL.
This is not the first time that Russia has attempted to lure back former Soviet Jews.
In 2013 the World Forum of Russian-Speaking Jewry dismissed a Russian plan to encourage settlement of Russian expatriates in the former Jewish autonomous region of Birobidzhan after Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev signed off on a program to offer financial inducements to bring over 2,000 people to the Chinese border region.
“We do not think that today, for the Jews, this initiative is relevant or realistic,” Alexander Levin, president of the forum, said at the time.
Deriding Putin’s most recent offer, gazeta.ru said that while the president’s “smile was probably meant to signal that the president himself is aware that European Jews will be in no great hurry to take him up on his generous offer,” it should be noted that “today, Russian Jews, as an ethnic group, are probably enjoying the most stable period in history of the country.”
While Putin, whatever his faults, “cannot be accused of having a negative attitude towards Jews,” and while anti-Semitism is on the rise in the west of the continent, “a massive exodus of Jews back to Russia seems to be a fantasy,” the news site continued.
“On the same very day Putin offered the Jews to come back [to Russia], it was reported that the Moscow Municipality’s Education Department was listing students who have a dual citizenship. It’s not hard to guess what historical connotations this, and other acts stigmatizing minorities, have for members of a people that was outcast for centuries.”
And while anti-Semitic violence in Russia is incredibly low by European standards, “the improvement in the social climate is merely a reflection of the political trends of the moment, and does not reflect any deep changes in social attitudes,” the paper’s editorial staff asserted, adding that the country’s Jews are more likely to leave than new ones come.
And while Russian Chief Rabbi Berel Lazar has asserted that Russian Jewry does not face any significant emigration, his spokesman Boruch Gorin said last May that rising Russian immigration to Israel is being driven partly by anxieties over Moscow’s increasingly authoritarian policies and by a stagnant economy hurt badly by Western sanctions over the Kremlin’s role in the Ukrainian conflict.
According to the Jewish Agency, 7,124 people made aliya from Russia, Belarus and the Baltics in 2015, up from 4,997 the previous year.
Ukrainian Jews have been extremely skeptical of Putin’s invitation, especially given what they describe as Russia’s use of allegations of anti-Semitism to delegitimize their government.
Putin’s administration has consistently accused the Ukrainian state of anti-Semitism since pro-Russian President Victor Yanukovich was toppled in a popular revolution two years ago, leading to intense anger toward the Kremlin by many Ukrainian Jews, who believe they have been made into propaganda pawns in the conflict.
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