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Russia's Chief Rabbi Defends Putin


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Sept.17, 2013

Russia's chief rabbi Berel Lazar tells American Jews not to criticize Russian President Vladimir Putin, saying they don't understand "the soul of the Russian people."

In an interview in New York with The Jewish Daily Forward, Lazar applauded Putin's recent decision to transfer the Schneerson Library — a collection amassed by the early leaders of the Chabad Hasidic movement — to a new Jewish museum in Moscow controlled by Chabad in Russia.

Putin's decision was denounced by lawyers for the umbrella organization of the international Chabad-Lubavitch movement based in New York. That group maintains that the library, which was nationalized during the Russian Revolution, belongs to Chabad in America.

But Lazar said pressuring Russia would not succeed and he had advised the American group to drop its legal action.

He offered similar advice to the Anti-Defamation League, which has called for action by the U.S. Congress in response to Russia's new anti-gay law.

Abraham Foxman, the ADL's national director, seeks to punish Russia for a recent bill that he maintains violates gay rights. He suggested legislation similar to the 2012 Magnitsky Act, which imposed sanctions on Russian officials implicated in the death of whistleblower Sergei Magnitsky.

Lazar told The Forward that legal and political pressure does not work with Russia, pointing out that Russia responded to the Magnitsky Act by making it illegal for Americans to adopt Russian children.

The new Russian law bans "propaganda on nontraditional sexual relationships."

Lazar said in support of the bill that the Jewish community did not want its children to see people "marching through the streets with the wrong message."

He added that street demonstrations are viewed more negatively in Russia than in the United States.

"There is a different mentality, a different social understanding of what demonstrations are," he said. "I think the American negative criticism against Russia is really because they don't understand the soul of the Russian people."