February 11, 2016 Special Dispatch No. 6302

Editorial In Russian Online Paper: Despite The Invitation Putin Extended To Them, Jews Are Not Likely To Flock Back To Russia

February 11, 2016
Russia | Special Dispatch No. 6302

At a January 19, 2016 meeting in Moscow with representatives of the European Jewish Congress, Russian President Vladimir Putin suggested with a smile that Western Jews could come to Russia to find refuge from the growing antisemitism in the West.[1] According to the Russian paper Kommersant, Viatcheslav Moshe Kantor, the president of the European Jewish Congress, responded by promising Putin that, if the Jews did return to Russia, this would not compromise the country's sovereignty.[2] Kantor also noted that antisemitism in Russia has dropped, unlike in Europe, and expressed hope that it would continue to do so. "We would like to thank the Russian leadership for waging a struggle against those who have chosen Jews as their target," he added. [3]

Putin replied that Russia considers the European Jewish Congress an ally in the struggle against antisemitism; "We consider your organization, one of the most representative non-governmental organizations in Europe, to be Russia's natural ally in the struggle against xenophobia, antisemitism and [the] manifestation of extreme views... We certainly regard you as our direct allies in preserving the memory of WWII, which was disastrous for all humanity, and [of] the Holocaust."[4]

He stated further that the handover of the famous Schneerson Library to the Jewish Museum and Tolerance Center in Moscow[5] will enable to end the controversy which previously arose over the historical collection.[6] The Russian president also promised to visit a new synagogue that had recently opened in Moscow.[7]

In response to the invitation extended by Putin to the Jews, the online paper published an editorial titled "You'd Better Come Over to Us," about the situation of Jews in Russia today. The editorial stated that conditions for Jews in Russia are indeed better today than they were in the past, because antisemitism is largely "confined to people's kitchens and is not being used as a state policy." It added, however, that Jews are nevertheless unlikely to flock back to Russia. This, first of all because of the deep economic crisis there, and also because the improvement in the condition of the Jews is merely a reflection of the political trends of the moment. It does not result from any deep changes in social attitudes towards Jews, or from any change in the authorities' fundamental tendency to see ethnic minorities as enemies, said the editorial.

The following are excerpts from it:[8]

Putin with representatives of the European Jewish Congress (Image: Sputniknews, January 19, 2016)

Putin: "Let Them Come Here. They Left The Soviet Union, Now They Can Come Back"; Kantor: "This Is A Brand New Idea"

"'Let them come here. They left the Soviet Union, now they can come back.' This was Vladimir Putin's smiling response to the statement made by Viatcheslav Kantor, president of the European Jewish Congress, that the situation of Jews in Europe is now 'the worst since the Second World War.' Kantor didn't lose his cool: 'This is a brand new idea. We will definitely discuss it at the Congress. I hope we will support you,' [he said].

"Although it appeared to be a joke, the president's invitation was picked up by the head of [Russia's] Jewish Autonomous Region,[9] Alexander Levintal, who reported that the Far Eastern Federal District of Russia [of which the autonomous region is a part] was ready to absorb European Jews who have been suffering from creeping antisemitism.[10] What else could he [Levintal] do? You do not argue with your president - although even the press agencies that usually practice strict self-restraint in describing emotions reported that Putin had made this offer 'with a smile on his face.' It was the president's usual tongue-in-cheek smile, which some might find it 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 antisemitic official policy. According to certain sources, before its fall, Stalin's regime was planning a mass-deportation of Jews to Birobidzhan [the Jewish Autonomous Region's administrative center].

"The 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, hence the answering smiles. But [the fact is that] today, Russian Jews, as an ethnic group, are probably enjoying the most stable period in history of the country...

"One of the largest Jewish museums in the world [the Jewish Museum and Tolerance Centre] has been opened in Moscow and is operating successfully; the president himself visits it regularly... The president is often reproached [for many things], but he cannot be accused of having a negative attitude towards Jews. Simply look at the names of many figures, who have surrounded him at different stages of his life. Even protests by [Russian] nationalists have lately been aimed mainly at immigrants from the Northern Caucasus, not at Jews, who were targets in the Perestroika years and in the early 90s."

On The Same Day Putin Offered The Jews To Come Back To Russia, It Was Reported That The Moscow Municipality's Education Dpt Was Listing Students Who Have A Dual Citizenship

"Europe, on the other hand, is becoming less and less attractive for Jews to live in. The new wave of Islamic immigration from the Middle East is a source of concern for the leaders of European Jewish communities, who see [these immigrants] as young jihadists with strong anti-Jewish and anti-Israel sentiments...

"However, even against this backdrop, a massive exodus of Jews back to Russia seems to be a fantasy. There are several reasons why neither Jews nor any other group of people are in a hurry to immigrate to Russia...

"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.

"Furthermore, consider the comprehensive [Russian] crisis, which will not end in the foreseeable future. On top of that, there is the opaque economic policy, which [] is unable to overcome this [economic] crisis by opening up the economy and encouraging new independent ventures. All this contributes to Russia's image as a country that is isolating itself from the developed world and has no intention of competing with it in any field except the military one. Would anybody see any positive prospects for himself in such a situation?

"Finally, [consider] what is perhaps the most important issue of all. Yes, Russia is now at a rare historic moment when domestic antisemitism is confined to people's kitchens and is not used as a state policy, even though the authorities are [always] inclined to look for new 'enemies.' However, this very example perhaps demonstrates better than anything else that 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.

"A high-ranking Russian official said: 'Without Putin not only will there not be Russia, there won't be peaceful coexistence between ethnic groups.' [Consider] just one tiny detail in this unpleasant prospect: A headline in an official [pro-government] Chechen media outlet emphasized the Jewish roots of the poet Dmitry Bykov, an oppositionist journalist.

"There is no doubt that Jews from abroad will not be flocking to Russia. Rather, our own [Russian] Jews will be leaving the country, which is very sad for many reasons, including pragmatic ones..."



[1], January 19, 2016.

[2], January 19, 2016.

[3], January 20, 2016.

[4], January 20, 2016.

[5] The Jewish Museum and Tolerance Center opened in Moscow in November 2012 and is thought to be the largest Jewish museum in the world (, "About" section).

[6] The Schneerson library is a collection of about 60,000 books, manuscripts and religious documents which belonged to the Chabad Rebbes, from Rabbi Schneur Zalman to Rabbi Sholom Dov-Bear Schneersohn, before the Russian Revolution and was nationalized by the Soviet government in the 1920s ( Orthodox Jewish Chabad Lubavitch movement, headquartered in New York City, demanded the return of the collection, claiming rightful ownership. In 1994, seven rare books from the collection were lent by the Russian State Library to the U.S. Library of Congress as part of an inter-library exchange program.  After extending the books' due date twice, the Library of Congress returned them not to the Russian State Library but to the Chabad movement, which in 2000 refused to return them the Russia. In 2013, a U.S. court ruled that Russia is required to pay US $50,000 a day to the Chabad Lubavitch movement until it returned the Schneerson Library to the movement's possession. In 2014, a Moscow arbitration court reacted by requiring the U.S. Library of Congress to pay the same amount to Russia for failing to return the seven books it had borrowed. (, June 13, 2013; Reuters, May 22, 2014).Putin's remark at the meeting with the European Jewish Congress implies that moving the Schneerson library to the Jewish Museum should put an end to the controversy., June 13, 2013; Reuters, May 22, 2014.

[7], January 20, 2016

[8], January 20, 2016.

[9] The Jewish Autonomous Region (or Jewish Autonomous Oblast) is a federal subject of Russia in the Russian Far East. Its administrative center is the town of Birobidzhan. The autonomous oblast was established by the Soviets in 1934.

[10] Levintal said that his region would "welcome Jews from European countries, where they may face attacks by antisemitic elements." The governor also called his region "the first officially-established Jewish statehood." Levintal's remarks come a day after President r Putin called on Jews to return to Russia., January 29, 2016.

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