Putin meets Russian Jewish leaders
Russian President Vladimir Putin held a meeting with two leaders of the country’s Jewish community on Wednesday, where they discussed the conflict in Gaza and Moscow’s efforts to secure the release of hostages being held by Palestinian militant group Hamas.
Representing Orthodox Jews at the event were Aleksandr Boroda, president of the Federation of Jewish Communities, and the organization’s chief rabbi, Berel Lazar.
Putin stressed that Moscow is in contact with the political wing of Hamas, and reported progress in freeing hostages who are of particular interest to Russia. These include Russian citizens as well as foreign Holocaust survivors and their family members, the president explained. The Kremlin did not disclose further details of what was discussed.
Last Friday, Lazar held a press conference alongside two former hostages who were freed by Hamas in late November. He said his organization had helped secure the release of Elena Trufanova and her mother, Irina Tatti, who are Russian nationals, as well as Elena’s Israeli sister-in-law, Sapir Cohen.
“Irina actively participated in the life of the community in Rostov-on-Don, visited the synagogue, and I remember meeting her many times when visiting the city,” Lazar said of the 73-year-old Russian doctor. The federation had petitioned Putin to intervene on the family’s behalf, he added.
The Israeli-Palestinian conflict flared up in October, after Hamas fighters raided several military bases and civilian communities in southern Israel, killing hundreds of people and taking dozens of hostages. The Israeli government launched a massive military operation in retaliation, declaring the eradication of Hamas as its primary objective.
West Jerusalem has been accused of a disproportionate response, considering the heavy death toll among civilians in Gaza. Health officials in the Palestinian enclave reported that over 27,000 had been killed as of Wednesday. The UN’s International Court of Justice (ICJ) ruled last month that Israel may be committing genocide in Gaza, based on evidence provided by South Africa. The Israeli leadership described the decision as “outrageous.”
Russian-Israeli have relations suffered a blow amid the escalation. Moscow has acknowledged the Jewish state’s right to defend itself, but has criticized the scale of the response. Russia has also argued that continued animosity between Israelis and Palestinians has largely been fueled by the failure to create a Palestinian state, an outcome that Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has vowed to prevent.