Putin jokes about Jews and money in Crimea

Russian leader jokingly expresses astonishment that Jews have trouble with money.

By Batya Jerenberg, World Israel News

Russian President Vladimir Putin joked about Jews and money during his visit to the Crimean Peninsula Monday marking the fifth anniversary of Russia’s annexation of the Ukrainian territory.

According to the Associated Press, Putin was in a meeting with residents of Crimea that included religious leaders. A black-hatted, bearded man, later identified as Rabbi Binyamin Wolf, the Chabad representative in Sevastopol, Crimea’s largest city, commented on financial difficulties his community was having.

Putin responded with a smile, “So the Jews have problems with finances! Such a thing could only happen in Crimea.”

The exchange was first reported in a tweet by the Moscow correspondent for the Washington Post, Amie Ferris-Rotman, who included a video of the event. Although the reporter added that the audience reacted with “forced laughter all round,” the clip seems to indicate that the response was genuine.

The Russian president then ended the short exchange with the Hebrew words “Toda rabba,” meaning “Thank you very much.”

Although Putin’s comment was made in a jovial manner, the fact that he reverted to a centuries-old anti-Semitic trope that all Jews are wealthy would not be considered in the best of taste by most Jews.

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According to David Lazarus of Israel Hayom, Putin’s goal at the gathering was “to make the residents of Crimea feel part of Mother Russia.”

Lazarus quoted Putin as saying, “Russia has taken you into its fold with delight and joy. We will fulfill all of our goals … because we are together now.”

During the meeting, Putin complimented the local Jewish community.

“I hope that Jews in Crimea will play the same positive role. Judaism is also among our traditional denominations, traditional religions, and I am very pleased that religious life is developing here in Crimea,” he said.

Meanwhile, Putin has led Russia to what is arguably its closest-ever relationship with Israel.

The Russian annexation of Crimea is not recognized by most of the international community. Putin has claimed that the move was necessary to protect ethnic Russians, who represent the majority of the peninsula’s population, from Ukrainian nationalists.

The EU and United States have placed various economic sanctions on Russia as a result of its unilateral action, which they deem illegal. The Ukrainian government consistently calls for Russia to leave the territory.