The attitude of Israelis toward Russian Jews is worse than in the rest of the world, Russian Jewish Congress president Moshe Kantor said while on a recent visit here.
He said that 100 people on the executive committee of his organization are businessmen, artists and scientists who are “very nice, respected and honored people everywhere in the world. And we expect that finally, the Israeli community will join this opinion.”
In speaking to The Jerusalem Post, he also lashed out at Western European Jewry’s disposition toward their Eastern European brethren: “Eastern European Jewry doesn’t want to be in the shadow or under the patronage of some Western European communities. They want to be listened to and respected.”
Kantor attributed the patronizing attitude of European Jews to the greater economic, political and religious rights they historically enjoyed. But now, he said, French, British and German Jews want first of all to be accepted first “as European citizens.”
“If we see now where are the most powerful Jewish communities, economically, we see America and Russia,” he said.
That economic power has had negative reverberations within Israel. Kantor took particular issue with Israelis’ attitudes toward Russian “oligarchs” – a term Kantor, himself a chemicals magnate, dislikes. He explained that unfavorable perception as stemming from Jews’ ingrained suspicions about the outside world.
While Kantor said that was natural, he added, “We should not be stupid. How we can make an extrapolation on two or three examples for a community of 1 million people?”
At the same time, he said holding onto suspicions about outsiders was essential to maintaining Jewishness. In that vein, he said it was understandable that Jews would be worried about anti-Semitic attacks in Russia, which he estimated have been increasing by 10 percent a year. But still, he said, “up until this moment, I have no exact reason to be more worried than usual.”
A known backer of President Vladimir Putin, Kantor praised him for taking a firm line against anti-Semitism after the stabbing of eight Jews at a Moscow synagogue. Putin’s stance against xenophobia, according to Kantor, comes from the post-World War II values he was raised with.
Kantor also said it was Putin’s Russian values that led his administration to host Hamas following its win in the Palestinian Legislative Council elections. Kantor described the approach as “being close with your enemies, not only with your friends; controlling your enemies.”
Kantor met with President Moshe Katsav, in part to promote the massive commemoration of the Babi Yar massacre he is planning for September.
“The Holocaust is still the fundamental instrument in politics to protect globally and strategically our interests” as the Jewish people, he said, pointing to the genocide as the only force which can gather so many heads of state in one room to discuss a Jewish issue.
“Let’s use these tools,” he said, “for the betterment of humankind, for the betterment of world Jewry.”