No Holds Barred: Why is Keren Hayesod honoring Vladimir Putin?

Yes, Putin is an extremely powerful man.

RUSSIAN PRESIDENT Vladmir Putin: About three years after his country hacked the US presidential 2016 elections, there are still cyber vulnerabilities at the highest levels for countries like Israel, the US and within the EU. (photo credit: TNS)
RUSSIAN PRESIDENT Vladmir Putin: About three years after his country hacked the US presidential 2016 elections, there are still cyber vulnerabilities at the highest levels for countries like Israel, the US and within the EU.
(photo credit: TNS)
Keren Hayesod, known throughout the world as The United Israel Appeal, is the fundraising arm of the Zionist movement, established in 1920 to raise money and distribute it to facilitate the return of the Jewish people to their homeland. Today, it is one of Israel’s three national institutions (along with the government and the Jewish Agency), raising money for the state through branches of the organization in 45 countries. It has done much good over the last century – which begs the question of why it’s about to make a significant moral blunder.
Today, September 17 – the very same day that Israelis will be choosing their new prime minister – Keren Hayesod will be bringing the world’s foremost Jewish philanthropists to meet the man who has kept Bashar Assad in power in Syria while he has repeatedly gassed innocent Arab children.
Keren Hayesod has organized a trip for its largest donors to visit Russia where the featured speaker will be President Vladimir Putin. Yes, that Putin. The former KGB colonel who also directed the Federal Security Service (the KGB’s domestic successor). The meeting would be questionable enough if Putin only assassinated his political rivals, imprisoned his critics and dismantled Russian democracy in its embryonic stage. It would be questionable enough if Putin only invaded Crimea and had his opponents poisoned. But most relevant to Jews and their values is the fact that Putin aids Syrian forces in genocide and protects the nuclear ambitions of Iran.
What could possibly have possessed the world’s most important Jewish charity to commit this error?
Just last week, we learned that Russia is preventing the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) from inspecting the warehouse in Tehran, which Israel says was used by the Iranians to store nuclear equipment and material. This was, of course, in violation of the catastrophic deal that former US president Barack Obama signed to prevent Iran from obtaining a bomb.
We have subsequently learned that Iran has been cheating on the deal from day one. Israel disclosed that the Islamic republic removed 15 kg. of undeclared enriched uranium from the warehouse. And who is protecting Iran? Putin, who does not want to allow proof of Iran’s deception to become public and threaten the agreement he signed. Furthermore, Russia sold Iran its most advanced anti-aircraft system to protect its nuclear facilities, and built its nuclear reactor at Bushehr, which is not covered by the nuclear agreement. If Israel one day feels that it has no choice but to bomb Iran’s nuclear facilities in order to protect its citizenry from annihilation, the main obstacle to a successful operation will be Putin’s missile defense system, which he sold to Iran.
IRAN IS NOT even pretending to adhere to the nuclear agreement anymore. True, US President Donald Trump withdrew from the deal. But Iran has not – and has falsely insisted until recently that it was not violating its terms. Now, however, it is openly flaunting the agreement with three admitted violations that advance its program to build a bomb. First, Iran said it would no longer limit its stockpile of low-enriched uranium. Then, Iran announced it would breach the limits on uranium enrichment levels set in the nuclear deal by increasing enrichment levels to 5% purity. And, just last week, Iran’s genocidal president said he was instructing his atomic energy agency to abandon all the commitments it has made regarding research and development of advanced centrifuges.
But any effort to impose stricter sanctions in response to these violations – the “snap back” Obama promised – are blocked by Russia’s veto in the UN Security Council. Why would Keren Hayesod offer global Jewish legitimacy to such a man? Why would Keren Hayesod’s leaders want to stand next to the dictator who is providing cover for Iran to pursue its genocidal objectives?
I am not naïve. When it comes to political leaders, such as Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and President Trump, I understand their need to engage Putin. Political leaders must meet with the Russian head of state to discuss political, economic and strategic interests. Netanyahu must engage Putin so as to curb Iran and Syria’s hegemony in the Middle East and protect the Jewish state. I even understand – though I remain somewhat troubled by – Chabad of Russia’s close relationship with Putin insofar as they must operate within the country for the sake of the Jewish community – and Putin, to his credit, has offered protection to the community. I recognize that in a country with a long history of brutalizing Jews, this is no small thing. But even so, the rest of Putin’s record cannot in any way be legitimized by being honored by the Jewish people’s most important global charity.
What would Keren Hayesod’s global network of contributors think of their money being used to honor the most important ally of Iran? What possible good can come from Keren Hayesod paying homage to the man enabling the wholesale slaughter of innocent Arabs and Muslims in Syria? And how will this look to the rest of the world? Does it benefit Jewish values to host Putin as the main speaker of the Keren Hayesod bi-annual meeting when he promised America that he had overseen the destruction of Syria’s chemical weapons, only to see sarin and mustard gas murder thousands of children?
AFTER THE Holocaust, it is we Jews who must be the loudest voices against innocent men, women and children being gassed to death. And to say that the honor being bestowed on Putin by a global Jewish charity is unacceptable.
Putin will no doubt use the meeting for propaganda purposes. Engaging with Keren Hayesod is just another way to legitimate his authoritarian rule. It is an unfortunate example of Jews allowing themselves to be used as tools in the service of a tyrant.
Putin promised a gullible Obama that he would get rid of the chemical weapons in Syria but didn’t, allowing the butcher of Damascus, Bashar Assad, to gas his own people, including women and children. Without Putin’s help, Assad would probably never have survived the civil war. Now, after killing 600,000 people and making millions homeless, he will resume his dictatorial rule over the shattered remains of his country, with his arsenal of weapons of mass destruction largely intact and new arms supplied by Russia.
Putin has stood by while Iran establishes a beachhead in Syria from which to attack Israel directly and indirectly through its Hezbollah proxies. He continues to allow Syria to smuggle weapons across the border to Lebanon, to help strengthen Hezbollah as it prepares for the next round of fighting with Israel.
What sort of morality lesson is it to seek an audience with someone whom the entire world looks upon as a cold-blooded killer? Turkish President Tayyip Erdogan also protects the Jewish community of Turkey. But as an enemy of Israel, I bet Keren Hayesod would find it unthinkable to take the world’s most important Jewish philanthropists to legitimize the Turkish dictator. Why is Putin any different?
Yes, Putin is an extremely powerful man. But the Jews came into the world to speak truth to power and stand up to oppression, as Moses did with Pharaoh, not to kowtow to power.
Taking advantage of the opportunity to rub elbows with the high and mighty is one thing when they are representatives of a democracy, such as members of the American executive and legislative branches, or leaders from the European Union. But seeking a photo op with a man who has allowed poison gas to be used against God’s children is unspeakable.
This meeting is one of the most exclusive in the Jewish world, occurring every two years, with invitations given only to the world’s most important Jewish donors. Keren Hayesod does its prestigious philanthropists a disservice by putting them in this compromising position.
The Jewish community stands for justice, righteousness and the infinite value of life. Those who trample on those high ideals should not be honorees at our most prestigious events.
The writer, “America’s Rabbi,” whom The Washington Post calls “the most famous Rabbi in America,” is the author of Judaism for Everyone and Renewal: The Seven Vital Values of the Jewish Faith. Follow him on Twitter and Instagram @RabbiShmuley.