A prominent US Jewish group on Saturday slammed Russian President Vladimir Putin for suggesting earlier in the day that Russians who sought to influence the results of the 2016 US presidential elections could have been Jews, saying his remarks were “eerily reminiscent of the Protocols of the Elders of Zion.”
The American Jewish Committee called on Putin to “clarify his comments at the earliest opportunity.”
The Protocols was a forged text produced in Russia at the end of the 19th century, which purports to outline Jewish plans to take over the world. It has been used by anti-Semites throughout the 20th and 21st centuries as justification for their views.
The Jewish advocacy group was joined in its outrage by opposition lawmakers in Israel, who called on the government to protest to the Russian government.
“We [are] quite familiar with the oldies ‘Maybe Jews run the world, maybe Jews use blood for their rituals, maybe Jews had slaughtered Jews in Poland.’ Now comes the latest hit ‘maybe Jews meddled in US elections,’ tweeted Zionist Union MK Ksenia Svetlova, who emigrated to Israel from Russia.
She called on the Israeli government to strongly condemn Putin’s remarks.
Fellow Zionist Union MK Nahman Shai also condemned Putin’s remarks as “classic anti-Semitism.”
“His comments show that nothing has changed in viewing the Jews as responsible for all the world’s evil,” he wrote. “We need a strong reaction from the government of Israel,” he said.
However, Foreign Ministry spokesman Emmanuel Nahshon told The Times of Israel that his office would not be commenting on the matter.
Israel has close but tense ties with Russia, which is heavily involved in the Syrian civil war.
Putin has also been seen to have a good relationship with the Russian Jewish community.
In an interview with NBC news, Putin was asked about Russians arrested for US election meddling. “I do not care at all, because they do not represent the government,” Putin said.
“Maybe they are not even Russians, but Ukrainians, Tatars, or Jews, but with Russian citizenship, which should also be checked; maybe they have dual citizenship or a green card; maybe the US paid them for this. How can you know that? I do not know either,” he said.
Putin insisted such efforts could not be tied to the Kremlin.
“Why have you decided the Russian authorities, myself included, gave anybody permission to do this?” Putin asked in the often-combative interview.
Special Counsel Robert Mueller is conducting a wide-ranging investigation to determine whether President Donald Trump’s campaign colluded with Moscow to help elect him.
Last month Mueller indicted 13 Russian nationals and three Russian companies for allegedly backing Trump’s campaign, maligning his Democratic rival Hillary Clinton and engaging in other election interference.
“So what if they’re Russians?” Putin said of the allegations.
“There are 146 million Russians. So what?… I don’t care. I couldn’t care less… They do not represent the interests of the Russian state.”
Mueller issued a 37-page indictment against the Russians but Putin indicated he has seen no evidence thus far that the alleged meddling broke any US law.
“Are we the ones who imposed sanctions on the United States? The US imposed sanctions on us,” he said.
“We in Russia cannot prosecute anyone as long as they have not violated Russian law… At least send us a piece of paper… Give us a document. Give us an official request. And we’ll take a look at it.”
America’s leading intelligence agencies concluded last year that Putin himself had directed a broad intelligence effort to influence the US election to undermine Clinton’s campaign and boost Trump’s chances, but Trump has repeatedly denied colluding with Moscow.
The Russian leader also rejected those assessments.
“Could anyone really believe that Russia, thousands of miles away… influenced the outcome of the election? Doesn’t that sound ridiculous, even to you?” Putin asked.