by: Kate Norman
Thursday, 28 July 2022 | An Israeli delegation departed for Moscow last night, local media reported, amid Jerusalem’s efforts to stop Russia from halting the Jewish Agency’s operations in the country.
A preliminary district court hearing was scheduled for this morning in Moscow, the Jerusalem Post reported, to hear the Russian Justice Ministry’s claims that the Jewish Agency illegally collected information about Russian citizens.
The Jewish Agency, an autonomous organization that has been operating in Russia since 1989, helps Russian Jews make aliyah (immigration to Israel). As part of the immigration process, the Jewish Agency collects potential immigrants’ background information.
The Israeli delegation comprises representatives from Israel’s Foreign Ministry, Prime Minister’s Office, Justice Ministry and Absorption Ministry, the Times of Israel reported.
Israeli Prime Minister Yair Lapid had ordered the delegation to be prepared to leave on Sunday, but the group reportedly did not receive visas from Russia until yesterday.
The delegation likely will not be present for the court hearing this morning, the Jerusalem Post reported, as the Jewish Agency staff defend themselves against accusations of violating Russian privacy laws.
The incident is cooling relations between Jerusalem and Moscow, as evidenced by Lapid’s warning earlier this week that “the closing of the agency’s offices will be a serious event, which will affect relations.”
Kremlin Spokesman Dmitry Peskov, however, told reporters yesterday that “the situation should not be politicized or projected onto the entirety of Russian–Israeli relations.”
“There are issues from the point of view of complying with Russian law,” Peskov added, attempting to put the focus back on a legal point of view.
However, the spokeswoman for Russia’s Foreign Ministry, Maria Zakharova, gave a conflicting answer.
“Unfortunately, we heard completely unconstructive and, most importantly, biased rhetoric in the statements that Tel Aviv made in recent months,” Zakharova told a Russian news agency yesterday.
Russia shuttering the Jewish Agency is believed to be punishment for Israel’s stance on Moscow’s invasion of Ukraine.
Israel initially worked to maintain a neutral stance on the Russia–Ukraine conflict, as 15% of the Jewish state’s population comprises immigrants and their descendants from the former Soviet Union, mainly Russia and Ukraine.
However, Israel joined 140 other countries in the United Nations in March to condemn Russia’s invasion of Ukraine and demand that Russian forces withdraw. In April, the Jewish state also joined a vote to remove Russia from the UN’s Human Rights Council in light of its bloody invasion.
As time passed by and more blood was spilled onto Ukrainian soil, Israel and its leaders, particularly Prime Minister Lapid, made stronger statements condemning the Kremlin.
Just days after Lapid took office on July 1, the Jewish Agency in Russia received its first letter of warning from the Russian government ordering the organization to cease all activity.
Different sources from the Jewish Agency said that at first, they tried to handle the matter quietly and internally before involving the Israeli government.
The Israeli delegation has been instructed by Lapid to “make every effort to exhaust the legal dialogue” as well as “high-level diplomatic dialogue” in order to keep the local Jewish Agency’s doors open, according to a statement released by the Prime Minister’s Office on Sunday.
Posted on July 28, 2022
Source: (Bridges for Peace, July 28, 2022)
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