Russian President Vladimir Putin has an unexpected offer for European Jews subjected to what he describes as rampant persecution in the West -- move to Russia.
"They can come to us," he told a delegation of the European Jewish Congress (EJC) in Moscow on January 19. "They left the Soviet Union. Let them return."
Jews in Europe are "trying to hide their ethnicity," he continued, saying that some of them were "afraid of wearing a yarmulke in public."
Putin was responding to remarks by the head of the EJC, Russian-born Viatcheslav Moshe Kantor, who warned that anti-Semitism in Europe had reached World War II levels and that "Jews are fleeing once-prosperous Europe."
European countries, in particular France, have seen a number of high-profile anti-Semitic attacks in recent years, including a deadly hostage-taking in a Paris kosher market two days after a shooting rampage at the satirical Charlie Hebdo magazine in January 2015.
But while the pro-Kremlin broadcaster RT praised Putin for offering "refuge" to European Jews "as a rising wave of anti-Semitic attacks engulfs Europe," his remarks have met with a good deal of skepticism considering Russia's own spotty track record in fighting hate crimes.
Authorities in Russia's remote Jewish Autonomous Oblast, which lies close to the Pacific coast on the border with China, have been quick to back Putin's proposal. Governor Aleksandr Levintal has already extended a warm welcome to all Jews fleeing from Europe.
The prospect of relocating to Russia, let alone to the Jewish Autonomous Oblast, appears unlikely to appeal to many European Jews. Most of those who hail from former Soviet republics came to Europe in the late 1980s and the early 1990s, and have long assimilated into their adopted countries.
"Vladimir Putin's offer was perhaps well-meaning, but personally I'm absolutely not interested," says Diana, a Moscow native who now lives in Paris. "I've lived in France for more than 20 years. I love France and I feel like a French citizen."
Despite recent attacks against Jews in France, Diana, a finance specialist, says reports of unbridled anti-Semitism are greatly exaggerated. "I have never felt threatened or suffered from anti-Semitism in France," she says. "I have no intention of leaving France; it's not more dangerous here than in Israel, Russia, or elsewhere."
Putin's proposal has generated a lively debate online, with many commentators pointing out that while Europe's Jewish community has indeed been targeted by a number of attacks in recent years, anti-Semitism has long been on the rise in Russia, too.
"Nationalists with clubs assault a train passenger in New Moscow," reads another sarcastic comment, referring to an apparently racially motivated incident reported in Russian media this month. "Jews, come to us."
According to Israeli authorities, nearly 5,000 Russians of Jewish descent moved to Israel in 2014 -- more than double than in any of the previous 16 years.