Rabbi Lazar, who was appointed chief rabbi in 2000 by Putin’s office and is known to be personally close to the president, said he had “no second thoughts” about having presented Putin a medal at last month’s ceremony at Auschwitz. The award was in gratitude for the Soviet Army’s liberation of Poland, despite recent steps by Putin seen as anti-democratic, such as curbing the independent media and ending direct elections of governors.
According to Rabbi Lazar, “The president has been a strong friend of the Jewish people, and his statement at Auschwitz shows that he sees a big danger from anti-Semitism in Russia.” [In his Auschwitz speech, Mr. Putin failed to mention the 1.6 million Jews murdered in Auschwitz. He also raised the ire of most of Eastern Europe when he praised Stalin-era Russia without mentioning the repression, reign of terror, and destruction it heralded.]
As for Putin’s recent steps against democracy, Rabbi Lazar said, “I do not see myself as a political voice who should comment on every move of the government. My job is to keep the Jewish community safe and help to strengthen Russia-Israel ties.”
Slutsker, who took over the Russian Jewish Congress in October and has brought that body closer to the positions of Rabbi Lazar and FIOR, said, “I welcome the vote in the Duma, which puts it on record against anti-Semitism.”
A faithful supporter of Putin during his career in the Senate, Slutsker said the West should give Putin the benefit of the doubt on his steps to cut back on democratic expression in Russia.
“In the wake of 9-11, even the United States had to limit certain democratic rights,” Slutsker said. “Russia, which has far fewer resources than the U.S. and millions of Muslims within its borders, also had to do so. Yet ending the direct elections of governors does not impact the Jewish community. The real threat to Jews comes from Rodina and the Communist Party.”
Rabbi Shayevich believes “there is a connection” between Putin’s anti-democratic measures and the recent anti-Semitic revival, and he criticized Rabbi Lazar for not speaking out more forcefully.
“Rabbi Lazar is too close to power,” said Rabbi Shayevich, who was Russia’s lone chief rabbi before Putin appointed Rabbi Lazar and began a policy of favoring FIOR over Rabbi Shayevich and the RJC. “Rabbi Lazar always defends the president, as long as he doesn’t go directly against the Jewish community.…”
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