Israeli officials angered by Russia’s move to ban Jewish Agency activities

July 22, 2022 by Aryeh Savir - TPS
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Senior Israeli officials reacted with anger to reports that Russia was moving to shut down the Jewish Agency’s activities in the country, an apparent penal action against the Jewish state.

Israelis hold placards against Putin Jerusalem, Mar 13, 2022. Photo by Shalev Shalom/TPS

Reuters reported Thursday that Russia’s Ministry of Justice has requested the liquidation of the Russian branch of the Jewish Agency, which helps Jews immigrate to Israel.

Russia’s Interfax agency reported that the court case, filed with Moscow’s Basmanny District Court, will be heard on July 28. The Ministry of Justice believes that the Jewish Agency “violated Russian law in its work,” the report claims.

In response, Israel Immigration and Absorption Minister Pnina Temano Sheta declared that the “immigration of Jews to Israel is a fundamental right that exists for every Jew in the world. The Jewish Agency’s activities occur throughout Europe and the rest of the continent, as well as in Russia, in full coordination with local authorities.”

“As we have known to work in cooperation with the Russian authorities for many decades, I have no doubt that they will find the appropriate solutions,” she assured

Diaspora Minister Nachman Shai added that “Russian Jews will not be held hostage by the war in Ukraine. The attempt to punish the Jewish Agency for Israel’s position on the war is pathetic and insulting. The Jews of Russia will not be able to be detached from the historical and emotional connection to the State of Israel.”

Reports indicate that a high-level Israeli delegation headed by National Security Advisor Eyal Hulata is expected to leave for Moscow in the coming days to discuss the Russian Ministry of Justice’s demand to close the Jewish Agency’s offices. Representatives of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and the Jewish Agency will also participate in the delegation.

An Israeli diplomatic source is quoted as saying that Russia is threatening to close the Jewish Agency as leverage to achieve something, a form of blackmail. Israel is expected to offer Russia something in return for an ease in the pressure.

Another report claims that Russia is upset that Yair Lapid became prime minister. Several sources have noted that Russia’s pressure on the Jewish Agency began after Lapid entered office a few weeks ago. Russia’s ambassador to Israel reportedly sent messages to Israeli sources saying that the Russians are unhappy with Lapid as prime minister because of his statements against Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.

As foreign minister Lapid stated in March that Israel condemns the Russian invasion of Ukraine, which is “without justification.” After the massacre in Bucha, Ukraine, in April, Lapid stated that “intentionally harming a civilian population is a war crime, and I strongly condemn it.”

He said yesterday: “The Jewish community in Russia is deeply connected with Israel. Its importance arises in every diplomatic discussion with the Russian leadership. We will continue to act through diplomatic channels so that the Jewish Agency’s important activity will not cease.”

Later that month, Lapid described the images and testimony coming from Ukraine as “horrific” and accused the Russian military of committing war crimes against a “defenceless civilian population,” adding that he “strongly condemns these war crimes.”

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