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Why some Israelis criticize Putin’s imminent visit

The upcoming visit of Russian President Vladimir Putin, his participation in the ceremony commemorating 75 years to the liberation of Auschwitz and his inauguration of the monument commemorating the Leningrad blockade stir up mixed emotions.
This picture taken on July 28, 2019 shows two giant Israeli Likud Party election banners hanging from a building showing Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu shaking hands with Russian President Vladimir Putin, with a caption above reading in Hebrew "Netanyahu, in another league", in the coastal Mediterranean city of Tel Aviv. (Photo by JACK GUEZ / AFP)        (Photo credit should read JACK GUEZ/AFP via Getty Images)
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The Israeli establishment is making a huge deal out of the high-level visit of Russian President Vladimir Putin to Israel. The family of Naama Issachar, who is imprisoned in Russia, is expecting the president to bring her with him, or at least to announce that she will soon be released from prison. The 1,300 Israelis who survived the siege of Leningrad during World War II hope that he will take part in the dedication of the new monument in Jerusalem to commemorate the many hundreds of thousands of people who did not survive the siege. In contrast, opponents of the Putin regime are still debating whether to demonstrate against him.

On the morning of Jan. 23, Putin’s plane will land in Israel to participate in a special event at the Yad Vashem - World Holocaust Remembrance Center to mark the 75th anniversary of the liberation of the Auschwitz-Birkenau death camp. It will be Putin’s third visit to Israel. His first official visit was in 2005, during which Israel and Russia signed numerous agreements between them. Then, in 2012, he returned to Israel for a second visit to dedicate a monument in Netanya commemorating the many victims of the “Great Patriotic War,” as Russians refer to their battle against Nazi Germany during World War II. Putin’s current visit also comes in the context of that war, but now it also comes in the heat of a war of competing narratives concerning the role of the Soviet Union and other European nations, such as Poland, in that war. Still, there wasn’t much of a commotion in Israel in response to the decision by Polish President Andrzej Duda to boycott the ceremony at Yad Vashem after being informed that he would not be given an opportunity to speak at the event. Nor was there much of a reaction to the exchange of accusations between Duda and Putin, who said that, “Stalin never shook hands with Hitler,” and claimed that Poland’s wartime ambassador to Germany proposed to erect a statue of Hitler in Warsaw.

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