Exiled Moscow Chief Rabbi tells Jewish News he’s fearful of Putin once ‘he is cornered’

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Exiled Moscow Chief Rabbi tells Jewish News he’s fearful of Putin once ‘he is cornered’

Rabbi Pinchas Goldschmidt, who left Russia last July in protest at the invasion of Ukraine, also spoke of his fears for the country's remaining Jews, saying there is 'deep engrained antisemitism' among the wider population

Lee Harpin is the Jewish News's political editor

Rabbi Pinchas Goldschmidt at the House of Lords event
Rabbi Pinchas Goldschmidt at the House of Lords event

The exiled chief rabbi of Moscow has told Jewish News he is fearful of how Vladimir Putin will act towards Russia’s declining Jewish community once “he is cornered” over his brutal invasion of Ukraine.

Rabbi Pinchas Goldschmidt, who left his home in Russia last July after admitting he could not support the war in Ukraine, was in London this week to speak at an event in Westminster, organised by life peer Lord Alderdice.

Goldschmidt has previously encouraged Russia’s Jews to leave the country if they possibly could, warned there were signs of an upsurge in antisemitic views expressed on social media amongst the general population as the first anniversary of the war with Ukraine approached.

But he added that Putin himself had deliberately protected himself from allegations of antisemitism.

“Nobody could accuse Putin of antisemitism,” said the rabbi, who was chief rabbi of Moscow, Russia from 1993 until 2022, serving at the Moscow Choral Synagogue.”But what he will do once he is cornered, I do not know. That is the danger.”

Goldschmidt, who sparked new life into the community in Russia following the collapse of Soviet communism, spoke of his belief that under Putin Russia had returned to the dark times again and was now a “semi totalitarian” rather than just an authoritarian state.

Answering questions in a Westminster committee room on Tuesday evening, Goldschmidt said he believed estimates that between 25-30 per cent of Russia Jewish community since last February’s invasion of Ukraine to be correct.

The rabbi said under conservative definitions of who was Jewish, through a mother, there were now 150,000 still living under Putin’s regime. But the community numbered around 350, 000 is those who had at least one Jewish grandparent were counted.

Goldschmidt said more than 50, 000 Jews had now settled in Israel, thousands had gone to live in Dubai and others had moved to Europe and elsewhere.

Asked if Putin “genuinely saw himself as a friend of the Jews”, Goldschmidt said the president “always had respect for the community.”

He added he “tried to be on good terms with them, and he also had a personal relationship with Bibi Netanyahu, this has to be recognised.”

But the rabbi warned that Putin was also aware “there is deep, engrained antisemitism within Russia.”

He described Putin’s claims that Russia had launched a war on the Nazis of Ukraine were “absolute science-fiction.”

Referring to Ukraine’s Jewish president Zelensky he added:”Show me another country led by neo-Nazis that has a vibrant Jewish community. It does not exist.”

He added that “to a certain extent Putin sees himself as the guardian of excesses of antisemitism” but that “the Jews would be in danger” is the wider population had its way.

Goldschmidt has been living in Jerusalem since leaving Russia, which he says feels like “one home” but he did not completely rule out a possible return to a post Putin Russia one day.

He was fearful of a further move towards extreme nationalism in Russia, in the event that Putin fell, possibly after what he described as a “palace coup.”

But he did not predict the end of Russian Jewry altogether, saying the community would survive, but in a smaller and less wealthy state in the future.

Earlier, the Conservative peer Lord Polak, had asked Goldschmidt for his view on the way the Israeli government had responded to the invasion of Ukraine.

He noted:”Israel is in a very difficult place – between the hammer and the sickle.”

The sympathies of the Israeli people were “with Ukraine” but the government had two issues “the safety of the Jewish people still in Russia” and its security in relation to Syria.

But Goldschmidt noted a more recent “shift” with the attack on Iran’s weapons shipments destined to assist the Russian military.

He noted that “during the last three weeks” American intelligence had tipped off the New York Times that Israel had destroyed a drone factor in Iran, meant for Russian forces.

Then there had been successive meetings between Israelis and Zelensky which he said was “quite a shift.”

Other to attend the Westminster event included the Liberal Democrat’s Baroness Ludford.


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