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Lapid: Russia’s Closing of Jewish Agency “Will Affect Relations”

July 25, 2022

by: Kate Norman

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The Jewish Agency’s logo includes the Star of David as seen here on the Agency’s building in Jerusalem.

Monday, 25 July 2022 | Israeli Prime Minister Yair Lapid warned yesterday that Russia’s attempts to halt the local Jewish Agency’s operations would be “a serious event” that “will affect relations” between the two nations.

A district court in Moscow will consider the Russian Justice Ministry’s request to shut down the Jewish Agency in Russia, a spokesperson for the court told Interfax last week, with a preliminary hearing scheduled for Thursday.

Yesterday, top Israeli officials met to discuss the situation and prepare a delegation to go to Russia.

The meeting included, according to the Prime Minister’s Office, Minister of Aliyah and Integration Pnina Tamano-Shata, Minister of Construction and Housing Zeev Elkin, Finance Minister Avigdor Lieberman, Prime Minister’s Office Director-General Na’ama Schultz, Ministry of Foreign Affairs Director-General Alon Ushpiz, and, among others, representatives from the Jewish Agency and the World Zionist Organization.

“Relations with Russia are important to Israel,” Lapid posted to Twitter after the meeting. “The Jewish community in Russia is large and important and comes up in every political conversation with the government in Moscow.

“The closing of the agency’s offices will be a serious event, which will affect relations,” Lapid warned.

The Jewish Agency is an autonomous organization that seeks to build a connection between Jewish people in the Diaspora (outside Israel) and the Jewish state, and to encourage Diaspora Jews to make aliyah (immigration to Israel). The organization has been working in Russia since 1989.

Russia reportedly accused the Jewish Agency of illegally collecting information about Russian citizens. As it helps Russian Jews immigrate to Israel, the Jewish Agency collects information about their background to validate their Jewish heritage.

An unnamed senior Israeli official told Ynet yesterday that if Russia successfully halts the Jewish Agency’s operations, Israel would potentially take harsh measures against Moscow, including calling back the Israeli ambassador from Russia.

“Closing the agency under legal pretense is a political issue,” the source told Ynet, “and we’re not going to go over this quietly.”

Lapid said yesterday that he instructed the Israeli delegation to “be ready to leave for Moscow as soon as the Russian approval for the talks is received, and to make every effort to maximize the legal dialogue on the issue.”

After the meeting, one of the participants, unnamed, told the Jerusalem Post that Moscow’s attack on the Jewish Agency is “an attack on the heart of the essence of the State of Israel. There is a real fear that aliyah from Russia will stop, and therefore the Israeli government is investing as much time and effort as needed.”

Moscow’s attack on the Jewish Agency is seen as revenge for Israel’s stance on the Russian invasion of Ukraine.

When Russian tanks first rolled into Ukraine in February, Jerusalem tried to maintain a neutral balance, as both Russia and Ukraine are home to significant populations of Jewish people. Israel’s population also comprises 15% immigrants and their descendants from the former Soviet Union, mostly 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 getting the Israeli government involved.

“Now that they took it to court, it is clear that they are not looking for compromise or negotiations,” an anonymous official from the Jewish Agency told the Times of Israel yesterday. “It is clear that this is a political move.”

Now the Israeli delegation is ready and waiting for Russian approval to depart for Moscow and see what, if anything, can be done to keep the Jewish Agency’s doors open—and consequently the door to Israel open for Russian Jews.

Posted on July 25, 2022

Source: (Bridges for Peace, July 25, 2022)

Photo Credit: zeevveez from Jerusalem, Israel/commons.wikimedia.org

Photo License: Wikimedia

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