To Jewish activists who are calling for the head of Russian President Vladimir Putin, Moshe Kantor has a word of advice: Think again.
Kantor, a Russian-born tycoon with Israeli citizenship who joined Putin’s recent delegation to Israel, responded to Putin’s critics both in Israel and in Russia with a warning.
“If you think you can send someone to hell [in politics]… you are wrong,” Kantor told The Jerusalem Post, explaining that he believes engaging Putin would be more productive than treating him as an enemy.
Russian Jews in Israel and abroad have joined critics of Putin in Russia in blasting the president for selling missiles to Syria and nuclear technology to Iran; for seeking the prosecution of the heavily Jewish oil giant Yukos; for rolling back democratic reforms; and for allowing – some say encouraging – anti-Semitism in Russia to rise to alarming levels.
But Kantor, who is also the chairman the board of the European Jewish Congress, and founded the World Holocaust Forum, believes it is unwise to push Putin so hard on these issues.
“It is a mistake… for the Jewish community in Russia, in Europe and in Israel to try to create a Jewish president in Russia, or even a pro-Jewish president in Russia,” he said.
Noting that there are 400,000 Jews in Russia and 15 million Muslims, Kantor added, “It is a very dangerous thing to have any Jewish influence on the Russian president. We should not overload him with our Jewish demands.”
Kantor is also concerned about anti-Semitism in Russia, but he is confident of two things: that the organized Russian Jewish community is handling the situation well enough, and that, in any case, Putin is not to blame.
“I see progress in the position of the president,” Kantor said, noting Putin’s speech at the first World Holocaust Forum ceremonies at Krakow in February. “I see that the president is ready to take a proactive position” on Jewish issues, he said.
“To react to the anti-Semitic letter [sent to the Duma in January] is the obligation of the prosecutor-general, the ministry of interior and the courts, not the president. [Putin] has positioned himself by coming to Israel, by coming to Krakow, and by being open to [hosting] the third World Holocaust Forum.”
The second such forum is being planned for Ukraine, to be held at Babi Yar next year. Kantor would like to hold the 2007 World Holocaust Forum in St. Petersburg.
He pointed out that Putin was invited to Israel by Katsav during the February meeting in Krakow, and that the two presidents discussed the idea of the St. Petersburg event during Putin’s historic visit to Israel.
That visit, while widely trumpeted in Israel, was seen as being ultimately anti-climactic. Kantor blamed the Israeli media for that, saying that they created expectations that were too high.
Putin’s visit was actually “very pragmatic,” Kantor said, and was meant to simply be symbolic, not a major practical breakthrough.
It was meant, he added, to “send a message to humanity that Russia and Israel are no longer strategic opponents, but [that] they are partners.”
“I think both sides were satisfied,” he said.
The Jerusalem Post