Russia closes immigration agency to Israel

Russia is threatening to ban a major Jewish non-profit agency that helps people emigrate to Israel from working in the country, a sign of the Kremlin’s worsening relationship with Israel and the far-reaching consequences of the war in Ukraine.

According to a Moscow court notice, the Russian Ministry of Justice is seeking the liquidation of the Russian branch of the Jewish Agency for Israel, a non-profit organization that operates in coordination with the Israeli government.

The Russian government’s actions amounted to a shelling of Jews in Russia and seemed to undermine President Vladimir Putin’s years of efforts to forge closer ties with Israel and the Jewish community.

Preliminary hearings were scheduled for July 28, and Israeli Prime Minister Yair Lapid said Thursday he would send a delegation to Russia for talks aimed at keeping the agency going.

“The Jewish community in Russia is deeply connected to Israel,” Lapid said in a statement. “We will continue to operate through diplomatic channels so that the important activities of the Jewish Agency do not stop.”

The Justice Department did not say why it sought to shut down the agency’s Russian branch, and did not respond to a request for comment.

But about two weeks ago, the ministry sent a letter to the agency’s Moscow office accusing it of violating privacy laws because the database contains data about applicants to emigrate to Israel, according to a Jewish Agency spokesman.

The official, who was not authorized to speak publicly during the trial, said the letter contained an outcry that was not related to legal claims: Israel is taking some of the best minds out of Russia, where hundreds of thousands of people live. Jewish origin.

After the Russian invasion of Ukraine in Feb. For 24 years, Israel has become one of the main destinations for a wave of emigration, an exodus that included many employees of the Russian technology industry. Some 16,000 Russian citizens have registered as immigrants in Israel since the start of the war, more than three times as many as in all of last year; another 34,000 arrived as tourists.

A Jewish Agency spokesman said Russia’s dissatisfaction with Israel on a range of other issues could also help explain the new pressure from Russia. These include Israeli military action in Syria and dispute over church property in Jerusalem.

Israeli officials have also become increasingly outspoken in their criticism of Russia’s war in Ukraine after initially attempting to go diplomatic. Last week, Israel began providing helmets and other protective gear to Ukrainian rescue forces and civilian organizations after previously refusing to do so. Lapid signed a joint declaration with President Biden expressing “concern about the ongoing attacks on Ukraine.”

“The attempt to punish the Jewish Agency for Israel’s position on the war is deplorable and insulting,” Israeli Diaspora Affairs Minister Nachman Shai said Thursday. “The Jews of Russia cannot be cut off from their historical and emotional connection with the State of Israel.”

The Jewish Agency, founded almost a century ago as the Jewish Agency for Palestine, was instrumental in the creation of Israel in 1948 and facilitated the emigration of millions of Jews from all over the world. It describes itself as the largest Jewish non-profit organization in the world and runs social programs in Israel and for Jewish communities abroad.

The agency was banned in the Soviet Union, where Jews faced widespread discrimination, until the last years of its existence. About a million immigrants from the former Soviet Union arrived in Israel from the late 1980s to the late 1990s. The agency now helps Russians with Jewish roots move to Israel and organizes Sunday schools and Hebrew courses throughout Russia.

It also operates in Ukraine and provides emergency assistance to Jews there. His Russian Web site invites visitors to enter the names and email addresses of Jewish relatives in Ukraine to allow the agency to “help rescue them from the war zone, provide them with temporary shelter, and allow them to repatriate to Israel.”

In a telephone interview, Russian Jewish Congress President Yuri Kanner said the Russian government’s move to liquidate the agency was a blow to the Russian Jewish community, even if a complete dismantling of its activities could still be prevented. He predicted that the flow of Russians moving to Israel, as evidenced by the surge in interest in learning Hebrew, he said, would increase further.

“Perhaps someone thought that in this way it was possible to limit” the emigration of Russians to Israel, he said of a possible ban on the Jewish Agency. “I think the result will be different – it will give new impetus to the wave of departures.”

mr. Kanner said that at the moment he does not see the growth of anti-Semitism in Russian society or the suppression of Jewish life in Russia. But the government’s move against the well-known Jewish Agency comes against the backdrop of Mr. Geopolitik Putin’s rapid reversal, and the domestic political landscape echoes the Soviet era, when Jews suffered from being seen as possessing dual loyalties.

Over the years, Mr. Putin has worked to strengthen ties with the Jewish community and with Israel. He supported the construction Jewish Museum in Moscow. and hosted Benjamin Netanyahu, then Prime Minister of Israel, as guest of honor at the World War II Victory Parade in Moscow in 2018.

But the war in Ukraine has left Mr. Putin looking for allies in his escalating conflict with the West, while fueling an expanding campaign against everyone in Russia with questionable loyalties. Earlier this week, Mr. Putin visited Iran, Israel’s nemesis, and in a meeting with the country’s supreme leader noted the rapidly strengthening relationship.

Inside Russia, the government this year cracked down on numerous organizations with foreign connections, from German political foundations to the American-funded think tank Carnegie Moscow Center. In December, it was used by the Moscow court eliminate Memorial Internationalthe country’s most prominent human rights organization, in a lawsuit similar to the one currently underway against the Jewish Agency.

And in Israel, politics that has long been under the influence of a large and influential Russian-speaking diaspora are moving away from the Kremlin. Naftali Bennett, Israel’s prime minister, avoided direct criticism of Russia when war broke out in February, citing Israel’s security interests in Syria and the need to protect the safety and free movement of Jews in both Ukraine and Russia.

mr. Lapid, who took over as prime minister on July 1 after Mr. Bennett’s government collapsed, it largely abandoned Mr. Bennett. Bennett to mediate in the war and said that Russia had committed war crimes in Ukraine.

For the Jews who remained in Russia, the apparent suppression of the Jewish Agency was another discouraging turn. In Volgograd, in southern Russia, Jewish community leader Yael Ioffe said in a telephone interview that the rate of emigration to Israel from her city appeared to have doubled in recent months.

She said that people of Jewish origin did not emigrate out of fear of Jewish persecution, but because of a general “unstable situation – or the expectation of an unstable situation.”