Russia's strongman Vladimir Putin came to power with the backing of Chabad-linked oligarchs opposed to the oligarchs that backed the Russian Jewish Congress. Shorty after Putin's election, Putin recognized Chabad rabbi Berel Lazar as "chief rabbi' and ostracized the rabbis and leaders linked to the Russian Jewish Congress. On the day he recognized Lazar as "chief rabbi," Putin's police arrested the RJC's leading oligarch, Vladimir Gusinsky. Putin harassed, arrested or exiled pro-democracy oligarchs. He curtailed press freedoms and squashed democracy. He persecuted religious minorities. And all the while, Chabad's Berel Lazar stood by Putin's side, praising Putin.
Lazar led a campaign to de-link US-Russia trade status from Human Rights. He gave Putin a medal while standing on the bone and ash of Auschwitz. He began the process of whitewashing the Soviet Union's murder of Raul Wallenberg.
But it was not enough.
Lazar did not succeed in changing Putin's thuggish image, either in the US Congress or in American public opinion. Now it seems Vladimir Putin has a theory about why Lazar has failed, and Putin is acting on it.
Putin now believes only a rabbi that represents all the varied Jewish communities of Russia can do the job. Lazar, despite his claims to be representative of all Judaism in Russia, is clearly a nothing more than Chabad's political leader. That is how Lazar is viewed in the West, and it is how Lazar is viewed in Israel, as well.
So, yesterday Putin invited the once exiled Chief Rabbi of Moscow Pinchas Goldschmidt to a private meeting in the Kremlin, the first time a non-Chabad, non-Lazar rabbi has been so honored.
The move has sent shockwaves through the Russian Jewish community. And those shockwaves may be felt as far away as Israel. According to Ha'aretz, which broke the story:
The sudden turn of events in Moscow may also have an effect on Israeli politics. In contrast to Lazar, Goldschmidt is a Lithuanian ultra-Orthodox rabbi and is very close to Rabbi Elyashiv, a powerful political figure in Jerusalem. Goldschmidt's improved standing in Russia could help [Russian-Israeli oligarch Arkady] Gaydamak in his plans to run for mayor of Jerusalem.
Ha'aretz notes that Gaydamak is the patron of the RJC and has been in a feud with fellow oligarch, Chabad's Lev Leviev. The move by Putin is seen as a snub to Leviev as well as a rejection of Lazar.
The Ha'aretz piece is posted after the jump:
[Hat Tip: Joey Macabbee.]
Putin spurns Leviev, invites 'Gaydamak's rabbi' to Kremlin
By Lily Galili, Haaretz Correspondent
In a move that brought the feud between Russian tycoons Arkady Gaydamak and Lev Leviev to a new high, Russian President Vladimir Putin invited Rabbi Pinchas Goldschmidt, an associate of Gaydamak, and not Rabbi Berel Lazar, who is close to Leviev, to a meeting with representatives of the European Jewish Congress at the Kremlin on Wendnesday.
The feud pits Lazar's Chabad Association of Jewish Communities in Russia, which Leviev heads, against Goldschmidt's Russian Jewish Congress of which Gaydamak is president.
Until now, Lazar was the only rabbi close to the Russian president and no other local rabbi was ever invited to the Kremlin. Behind his back, Lazar was even called "Putin's rabbi. However, the Jewish community in Russia believes that Lazar was passed over because he did not do a good enough job improving Russia's image in the eyes of the United States Congress and American Jewish communities, failing to portray Russia as a nation that is not anti-Semitic.
Jews in Russia also believe that Putin reached the conclusion that a rabbi who does not represent all the Chabad movements in Russia can not serve as the representative of the entire Jewish-Russian community. Because of this, Putin turned to Goldschmidt.
The sudden turn of events in Moscow may also have an effect on Israeli politics. In contrast to Lazar, Goldschmidt is a Lithuanian ultra-Orthodox rabbi and is very close to Rabbi Elyashiv, a powerful political figure in Jerusalem. Goldschmidt's improved standing in Russia could help Gaydamak in his plans to run for mayor of Jerusalem.
Putin slams Latvia, Estonia in meeting with Jewish leaders
Vladimir Putin railed against Estonia and Latvia Wednesday, accusing the former Soviet republics of condoning Nazism and the European Union of being indifferent.
Speaking at a Kremlin meeting with members of the European Jewish Congress, Putin also lashed out at Ukraine for allowing veterans of partisan groups that fought both the Nazis and the Soviet Army to hold war remembrances.
"We know that denying the Holocaust in several countries is prosecuted under the law in a series of countries, but at the same times, the actions of the Latvian and Estonian authorities openly indulge the heroization of the Nazis and their supporters. And these facts remain unnoticed by the European Union," Putin said.
Russia in recent years has repeatedly condemned the two Baltic states for allowing World War II veterans who fought on the side of the Nazis against the Soviet Union's Red Army to hold marches and commemorations. Estonia's decision to move a Soviet war monument from its site in the center of the capital, Tallinn sparked heated protests from Moscow.
Heading the European delegation was its recently elected president, Vyacheslav Kantor, a Russian metals tycoon who is a reportedly a close associate of Putin and who was once linked to jailed oil billionaire Mikhail Khodorkovsky.
Kantor warned of the danger of nuclear terrorism emerging from rogue countries like North Korea and Iran, and spoke out against banalizing the dangers of anti-Semitism.
Kantor also heads the Russian Jewish Congress, one of two major Jewish groups that often compete for influence in Russia - a country with a long history of official and unofficial anti-Semitism.