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 more than a dozen prominent rabbis, including Berel Lazar, a chief rabbi of Russia, and Yitzchak Yosef and Israel Meir Lau, Israel’s chief rabbis.
“Of particular concern is the revival of Nazi ideas,” Putin told the delegation of rabbis, which also included Binyominn Jacobs, the chief interprovincial rabbi of the Netherlands, and David Moshe Lieberman of Antwerp. “I want to thank the Jewish community, nongovernmental 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.”
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 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 his assertions, saying 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.”
The meeting took place ahead of an annual Holocaust commemoration event scheduled for Thursday in the Crimean city of Sevastopol. The ceremony, which is organized by the local Jewish community, is in memory of over 4,000 Jews killed by German troops in July 1942 and has been held since 1992. This year’s will be the first since the 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, “There’s no denying that President Putin and the Kremlin want to demonstrate that anti-Semitism is not accepted and that everything is all right 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.”