ANALYSIS: Putin’s Special Relationship With Israel and the Jews

The Russian leader has a reputation for being cold. So why is he so overly warm toward Israel and the Jews?

By Yochanan Visser | | Topics: Putin
Vladimir Putin has a soft spot for Israel and the Jews.
Photo: Amos Ben Gershom/GPO

Russian President Vladimir Putin is scheduled to visit Israel for the first time in eight years and will attend the 75th commemoration of the liberation of the Auschwitz death camp where 1.41 million Jews were gassed during World War II.

During the commemoration in Jerusalem, Putin will also inaugurate a monument for fallen Red Army soldiers who were killed during the military operation that ended in the liberation of Auschwitz.

This, however, is not the reason why the Israeli media are going nuts about Putin’s visit.


Jailed Israeli

Not a day goes by without reports about the possibility that Putin will pardon the 26-year-old Israeli woman Na’ama Issachar who was arrested on the airport of Moscow in April 2019 when the Russian authorities found 9.5 grams of marijuana in her luggage.

Issachar was later sentenced to 7.5 years in prison despite the fact that she flatly denied the charges against her and said she had no clue about the origins of the pot in her luggage.

At that point, a national campaign began led by Na’ama’s mother Yaffa who at one point threatened to block Putin from attending the memorial on Thursday by using her body.

Yaffa Issachar also called upon Israeli Prime Minister Benyamin Netanyahu to use his excellent personal relationship with Putin to secure the release of her daughter and this exactly what the PM did.

Netanyahu brought up the issue of Na’ama’s pardon during recent visits to the Kremlin while he also conducted numerous phone calls with Putin to discuss the possibility of pardoning Issachar.

Initially, expectations Netanyahu would have success with convincing Putin to pardon Issachar were low but since the end of last week when the Russian paper Kommersant, citing unknown government sources, reported that Putin was indeed considering pardoning the Israeli woman.

The Kommersant report was preceded by optimistic messages by Netanyahu who said in a video that was posted on his website there was reason to be optimistic.

Then on Sunday, Yaffa Issachar returned from Moscow where she vainly had tried to get permission to visit her daughter in prison.

Na’ama’s mother said the moment of truth had arrived in the campaign to obtain a Presidential pardon for her daughter and indicated that she too had reason to be optimistic.

She was later asked by the Israeli government not to seek any more publicity until after Putin’s arrival in Israel.

On Monday, speculation about a possible announcement about the release of Na’ama Issachar increased when Israeli media reported that the Kremlin had confirmed Putin would discuss pardoning the woman during his upcoming visit to Israel.

If true, it wouldn’t be the first time the Russian leader does a favor for Israel.


Israel and Russia in Syria

Putin allows the Israeli air force (IAF) to conduct airstrikes against the Iranian axis in Syria despite the deployment of sophisticated anti-aircraft missile shields such as the S-300 and S-400.

He apparently also used his influence over Syrian dictator Bashar al-Assad to prevent the Syrian army from using its own S-300 system against Israeli warplanes that was delivered by the Russians to the Syrian military in 2018.

Putin also absolved Israel from responsibility for the downing of an IL-20 reconnaissance airplane in September 2018 when Israeli warplanes flew over northwest Syria to conduct a strike on the Iranian-held T4 airbase.

This happened after PM Netanyahu showed the Russian leader intelligence proving the IAF planes were already on their way to Israel when the IL-20 was downed by Syrian air defenses.


Putin’s soft spot for Israel

This all begs the question of why Putin, who has the reputation of being cold-hearted, seems to have a soft spot for Israel.

Some observers have pointed out that the Russian President regards the more than a million immigrants from the former Soviet Union as Russians and that this explains his behavior toward Israel.

Others pointed to the fact that Putin’s former teacher Mina Yuditskaya was living in Israel before she passed away. Putin reportedly even bought an apartment in Tel Aviv for his ex-teacher.

The Russian President has also very good ties with the Russian Jewish community and has a personal relationship with Russian Chief Rabbi Berel Lazar the head of the Chabad movement in Russia.

It is Lazar who finally shed more light on Putin’s weak spot for Israel and the Jews.


Jewish goodwill

The Russian Chief Rabbi reportedly told a group of Israeli Jews who are close to Rabbi Dov Kook, a kabbalist residing in the Israeli city of Tiberias, that the origins of the weak spot lie in Putin’s youth when he was living with his parents in a modest apartment complex in the city of St. Petersburg.

The group of Jews then decided to publish in their own Shabbat sheet what they heard from Lazar.

This Shabbat sheet, Dwash Shabbat, reported last Friday that Putin’s parents were so poor that they often hadn’t enough money to buy food and clothes for their kid.

The sheet also reported that a Jewish couple that was living next door to the Putins took care of the young Vladimir.

This is something that was earlier reported by the Jewish Telegraph Agency, but Dwash Shabbat now revealed more details.

The Jewish couple was the only one that took care of the young Putin despite the presence of other Russian families in the building who were aware of the problematic situation in the family of the future Russian leader.

Every time the Jewish neighbors noticed that the young Putin was home alone without food they prepared him a decent meal and also invited him to their Shabbat table and for the Jewish holidays.

This exposed the young Putin to Jewish rituals and prayers since the couple was religious, and explains why the Russian President likes to visit Jewish communities and synagogues in Russia.

The Jewish couple even bought clothes for the boy and made sure he wouldn’t be without basic supplies.

You now understand what’s behind Putin’s soft spot for Israel.


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