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Russian President Vladimir Putin has invited Jews to emigrate to Russia amid an increase in anti-Semitic violence in Europe. At a meeting between Putin and members of the European Jewish Congress (EJC) in the Kremlin, Putin was told that discrimination suffered by Jews in Europe was worse than at any time since World War Two.
"The position of Jews in Europe today is the worst since the end of World War Two. Jews [are] gripped by fear and there is a very real new exodus of Jews from Europe," EJC President Vyasechlav Moshe Kantor told Putin, Russia Today reported.
He blamed the increase in attacks on the rise of the European far-right in the wake of the 2008 financial crisis, and attacks by Islamic extremists. "For example, the emigration flow from France, which only yesterday seemed so safe, is bigger than from Ukraine, [which is] engulfed in civil conflict. Why are the Jews fleeing from Europe?" asked Kantor. "They run...not only because of terrorist acts against our communities in Toulouse, Brussels, Paris, Copenhagen, now in Marseilles, but because of the fear to just appear in the streets of European cities."
There have been a series of anti-Semitic attacks in France in recent years, including the murder of four Jews in a kosher supermarket in January, 2015 by Islamic terrorist Amedy Coulibaly.
Putin said that Jews should return to Russia: "Let them [Jews] come to us then," adding that "during the Soviet period they were leaving the country, and now they should return."
The European Union Fundamental Rights Agency (FRA) has criticised European governments for failing to properly record anti-Semitic incidents, leaving it difficult to assess long-term trends. In a June 2015, the US-based Anti-Defamation League found a drop in anti-Semitic attitudes in countries including France, Germany and Belgium.
Individual European countries have seen a sharp increase in anti-Semitic incidents, with anti-Semitic attacks doubling in France in 2014, and in the UK in the first six months of 2015. In 2015 almost 10,000 Jews emigrated from Europe to Israel, the highest number on record in a single year. 80% of these were from France.
Amid the violence in east Ukraine and the economic downturn there was also a 40% increase in the number of Russians immigrating to Israel in 2015, according to the Jewish Agency for Israel. The previous year Jewish leaders in Russia expressed concern over rising anti-Semitic rhetoric in state media amid the nationalist fervour that followed the annexation of Crimea.
In the late 19th century anti-Semitic pogroms caused millions of Jews top flee Russia and eastern Europe, while millions more emigrated from Russia to countries including Israel, the USA and Germany during the final two decades of the Soviet Union.
The Soviet Red Army liberated several Nazi death camps in the final months of World War II, however after the war Stalin initiated a persecution of Jews, a campaign which only ended with the Soviet leader's death in 1953.
Affiliated to the World Jewish Congress, the Paris-based EJC represent an estimated 2.5 million Jews in Europe.