WASHINGTON – He’s been called an anti-Semite.
He was challenged recently by Jewish leaders and American media for blaming so-called “Russian meddling” in the 2016 presidential election on Jews.
In fact, some Jewish and Christian Bible prophecy watchers suspect he is the infamous of Gog of Ezekiel 38-39 – an anti-Messiah figure they believe leads a last days invasion of Israel along with Persia (Iran) and a coalition of other countries.
Those accusations and suspicions have been made against none of other than Vladimir Putin, the leader of Russia.
Yet, Putin maintains a deep and complex relationship with Russian Jews, Israeli leaders and the state of Israel. He also supported the founding of the Jewish Museum and Tolerance Center in Moscow, even donating his own money, has stated his “fierce opposition to any manifestation of anti-Semitism and xenophobia,” ensured the return of many synagogues to Russian Jews previously seized by the Soviets and in 2015 initiated a law against anti-Semitic biblical commentary.
He has also visited Jerusalem’s Western Wall three times, donning a yarmulke and praying.
Perhaps the most dramatic, surprising and little-known of those visits, his third and most recent, came June 26, 2012, when he made an early morning pilgrimage to both the Church of the Holy Sepulchre and the Western Wall sometime after 2 a.m., saying he did not want to miss out on seeing the two sites that offer a “special feeling.” His first visit came when he as first elected president, the second in 2005, during Passover – all odd behavior for an anti-Semite, blaming Jews for meddling in a U.S. election and for a Gog candidate.
What did Putin pray for during his quiet visit to the Kotel in 2012?
Shortly afterward, an Israeli bystander called out in Russian, “Welcome, President Putin.” Putin approached the man, who explained the importance of the Temple Mount and the Jewish Temple. Putin responded in a video-recorded conversation reported in Chadrei Charedim, an Orthodox Hebrew news site, “That’s exactly the reason I came here – to pray for the Temple to be built again.”
Putin shook the unidentified man’s hand and added with a smile, “I wish you that your prayers will be received.”
A person who witnessed the three-minute conversation said, “I guess he’s is not as closed and tough as we thought.”
Throughout the visit, Putin demonstrated curiosity, asked many questions on the history of the place, and spoke about the Jewish connection to the holy site.
“You can see how the Jewish past is engraved in the Jerusalem stone,” he said.
During the course of his visit, Putin spoke with other visitors at the site, asked many questions, chatted at length with an ultra-Orthodox immigrant from the former Soviet Union. The Russian president also received a book in Russian about the Western Wall tunnels, asking to visit the tunnels himself.
The extraordinary visit followed a busy day of meetings with top Israeli officials including President Shimon Peres, who died five months later, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman. Putin was accompanied by Russia’s Chief Rabbi Berel Lazar and his colleague Rabbi Alexander Barada of the Federation of Jewish Communities of Russia. They were greeted by Kotel Rabbi Shmuel Rabinowitz. While there, he offered a prayer and recited Psalm from a Russian-Hebrew prayer book.
Putin later toured sites in Bethlehem, met with Palestinian Authority leader Mahmoud Abbas and traveled to Jordan.
But the trip to the Western Wall outraged Islamic activists.
The Al-Aqsa Foundation for Endowment and Heritage – posted a statement on its website saying: “We say to Putin and his ilk that the Buraq Wall is a holy Muslim site that is exclusively Muslim. [The wall] is an integral part of the blessed Aqsa mosque. No one but the Muslims have a right to this wall or to the blessed Aqsa mosque, and all historical documentation proves the Islamism of the Buraq Wall. … We would like to remind Putin that the Israeli occupation, having occupied east Jerusalem and Al-Aqsa mosque 45 years ago, destroyed an entire neighborhood, including all its homes and buildings, and turned it into a Jewish prayer grounds without any authorization or right, and later carried out extensive excavations, including excavations along the blessed Aqsa mosque.”
Later, in 2014, Putin defended Israel in Operation Protective Edge against attacks Hamas in the Gaza Strip, saying, “I support Israel’s battle that is intended to keep its citizens protected.” He was the first Russian president to visit Israel, the Western Wall and Israel’s Yad Vashem Holocaust Museum, where he observed a moment of silence. he also purchased an apartment in Tel Aviv for his then-84-year-old Jewish German teacher. Putin returned to Israel in 2012 as the guest of honor at a state dinner and to inaugurate a monument to the Red Army soldiers who helped defeat Nazi Germany Hitler in World War II.
Despite all this, tensions between Israel and Russia remain high because of Moscow’s alliance with Iran and the Syrian regime of Bashar Assad.
But that has not stopped Israel’s Nascent Sanhedrin from calling on President Trump and Putin to join forces to fulfill what the group regards as its biblically mandated role in rebuilding the Jewish Temple in Jerusalem. The Sanhedrin regards itself as a provisional body awaiting integration into the Israeli government as both a supreme court and an upper house of the Knesset.
The plea by the Sanhedrin to the two leaders was made only days after Trump’s election victory in November 2016. The group’s letters asked that both leaders act as modern-day Cyrus figures – non-Jewish kings who recognize the importance of Israel and the Temple. Cyrus the Great, king of Persia in the sixth century B.C., announced in the first year of his reign that he was prompted by God to make a decree that the Temple in Jerusalem should be rebuilt.
Putin never got back to the Sanhedrin, according to reports. The group has not commented on whether it heard from Trump.
As described in the Book of Isaiah, the future Temple will be “a house of prayer for all nations.”
But today the Temple Mount, believed to be the foundation for the first and second Temples is restricted from prayer to all but Muslims.
“The status quo presently and officially is that Jews and Christians are not allowed to pray on the Temple Mount,” said Rabbi Yehuda Glick, a member of the Knesset and an activist on behalf of rebuilding the Temple.
When tensions at the sight are low, Israeli police seldom enforce rules against quiet prayer by Christians and Jews unless complaints are lodged by the Waqf, the Islamic guardians of the restrictions. They sometimes follow visitors moves, even watching their lips to ensure they are not praying.
In 1967, when Israel captures the holiest site in all of Judaism in the Six-Day War, Defense Minister Moshe Dayan relinquished administrative and day-to-day control of the Temple Mount to the Waqf as a show of goodwill.
Glick called the 1967 Temple Mount relinquishment a naïve move, in which Israel incorrectly believed that relinquishing control of a site holy to Muslims as well as Jews and Christians would create a lasting peace between Israel and her Arab neighbors.