Russian President Vladimir Putin last week raised eyebrows by offering refuge in Russia to Jews fleeing anti-Semitism in Western Europe.
But while the statement may have been more of a political snipe at Putin's European critics than a serious offer, the fact is that Jews in Russia are today more secure than many of their brethren in Western Europe, according to one leading Jewish official who was present when the Russian leader made his "offer."
Jonathan Arkush – who heads the Board of Deputies of British Jews – recounted how the Jewish leaders present at the Kremlin didn't take the offer itself too seriously, and suggested that Putin didn't either.
"The reaction of all of us around that table was to laugh, and President Putin smiled when he said it, so I think probably he too was aware of the sense of irony," Arkush said.
But speaking from Brussels, where earlier Tuesday he was elected as Chairman of the European Jewish Congress General Assembly, Arkush added that there was a more serious aspect to Putin's remarks.
While the Russian President has been criticized in the West for his dismal human rights record and invasion of Crimea, Putin's Russia has done a much better job of fighting anti-Semitism than many of those same critics.
Among those present at the time were the head of Russia's Orthodox Jewish community and the Chief Rabbi of Russia, Arkush noted. Yet despite their intimate audience with Putin neither had any concerns "on domestic issues in Russia" to raise, illustrating just how far Moscow has gone in cracking down on the once-rampant scourge of anti-Semitism.
The Russian Jewish community is going through "a period of renaissance (and) consolidation… where you can talk on the streets as a Jew with a kippa and not be attacked," Arkush said.
"You can't say the same, unfortunately, for Jewish communities in some parts of Western Europe."