Last week, during US President Joe Biden’s visit to Israel, the two nations signed a joint declaration that among many other things called for an end to Russia’s invasion of Ukraine. This Thursday, Russia called for the “dissolution” of Jewish Agency operations there, apparently in retaliation for Israel’s stance on the Ukraine war and strategic strikes in Syria against Iran.
Russian authorities filed paperwork in the district court in Moscow to close the Jewish Agency offices in the country. This is seen as a power move by Russia—the Jewish Agency is a quasi-governmental organization that encourages and arranges for Jewish people to make Aliyah (immigrate) from their home country to Israel.
“The court received a lawsuit filed by the main department of the Ministry of Justice in Moscow requesting the dissolution of the… Jewish Agency,” a state-run media outlet reported. A court spokeswoman claimed that the action was taken after there were “legal violations,” but she did not provide any specifics. A first hearing is set for next week (July 28).
Last month, the Russian authorities informed the Jewish Agency (JA) that they were preparing to take legal action and sent a list of extensive demands to the organization. The JA sought to fight it and still keep it under wraps, but as the stakes have grown, they have called on the Israeli Foreign Ministry to step in.
“As we have previously stated, we are not making any comment during the course of the legal proceedings,” JA said in a statement. And they said they plan to continue operations as normal until the court decides on the matter.
Evoking memories of the plight of Russian Jews for years (they were denied the ability to immigrate or practice their faith openly), Israeli Diaspora Minister Nachman Shai said, “Russian Jews will not be held hostage by the war in Ukraine. The attempt to punish the Jewish Agency for Israel’s stance on the war is deplorable and offensive. The Jews of Russia cannot be detached from their historical and emotional connection to the State of Israel.”
Tens of thousands of Russian Jews have immigrated to Israel over the last few years, and even since Russia invaded Ukraine, another 10,000 have arrived (in addition to the tens of thousands of Ukrainian Jews).
After conducting a “situational assessment” with the National Security Council, Israel Prime Minister Yair Lapid said that he will send a delegation to Moscow next week to try to sort all of this out.
“During this situational assessment, it was decided to dispatch a delegation [with representatives from] the Prime Minister’s Office, Foreign Ministry, Justice Ministry and Immigration and Absorption Ministry next week in order to ensure the continued operations of the Jewish Agency in Russia.”
“The Jewish community in Russia is deeply connected to Israel and its importance comes up in every diplomatic conversation with the Russian leadership. We will continue to act through diplomatic channels, so the important work of the Jewish Agency is not impeded,” Lapid said.
Earlier this week, Russian President Vladimir Putin sent another signal to the West and its allies, with his first trip outside of the former Soviet Union since he invaded Ukraine. His destination? Iran. Putin met with Iranian Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, Iran’s President Ebrahim Raisi and Turkey’s President Recep Tayyip Erdogan.