Russian President Vladimir Putin proposed Tuesday that Jews facing a rising tide of anti-Semitism and bigotry farther west should move to Russia, where he said they would be better accepted.
The Russian leader was in a meeting with members of the European Jewish Congress, an organization headquartered in Paris. Its Moscow-born president, Moshe Kantor, had detailed to Putin how anti-Semitic attacks had risen in Europe by about 40 percent each of the past three years and that Jews can no longer walk the streets of some major European cities in safety.
“They should come here, to Russia. We are ready to accept them,” Putin said in response, according to a transcript provided by the Kremlin.
Kantor appeared a bit taken aback by the gesture, but Putin continued, “They left the Soviet Union; now they should come back.”
The remarks come at a time of pronounced fear among Europe’s Jewish communities, rattled both by a rise in far-right activism across the continent as well as an influx of Muslim migrants and refugees.
About 10,000 Jews from Western Europe immigrated to Israel in 2015 – a record figure, according to the Jewish Agency. The bulk of that number came from France, which is home to Europe’s largest Jewish population. A brutal machete attack last week on a Jewish religious teacher in the city of Marseille sparked concerns about the safety of Jews wearing kippas, or skullcaps, in public.
Russia, of course, has its own long and terrible history of anti-Semitic bigotry and pogroms. As the U.S.S.R. crumbled, hundreds of thousands of Soviet Jews used the opportunity to leave. Between 1989 and 2006, according to Russia Today, some 1.6 million Soviet Jews and their relatives opted to move to Israel, while 325,000 migrated to the United States, and roughly 219,000 to Germany.