Israel warns Russia: Shutting down Jewish Agency has ‘serious’ consequences

Natan Sharansky, a Soviet-era refusenik and former Jewish Agency chairman, called on Russian Jews to leave while they can.

By David Hellerman, World Israel News

A delegation of Israeli officials is preparing to leave for Moscow in hopes of averting moves to shut down the Jewish Agency’s activities in Russia.

The Jewish Agency is a non-profit organization that facilitates aliyah and works closely with the Israeli government. The Kremlin accuses the Jewish Agency of illegally collecting information on Russian citizens interested in immigrating, an agency official told Israel Hayom.

The agency denies any wrongdoing, and the official told Israel Hayom that the Russians are simply cracking down on “routine paperwork.”

Russian court has scheduled a preliminary hearing on July 28.

“Shutting down the Jewish Agency’s offices would be a serious event with repercussions on ties” between Israel and Russia, Prime Minister Yair Lapid said at Sunday’s Cabinet meeting.

“Relations with Russia are important to Israel,” Lapid said. But he stressed that “the Jewish community in Russia is large and important and comes up in every diplomatic discussion with the government in Moscow.”

The Israeli delegation will include representatives from the Foreign Ministry, the Prime Minister’s Office and other government officials.

According to a Channel 13 report, Israeli officials have assessed that Moscow’s move against the Jewish Agency is a diplomatic issue stemming from Israel’s support for Ukraine, and not a legal issue. The Jewish Agency denies breaking any Russian laws.

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Around 150,000 Jews live in Russia. Since Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, an estimated 30,000 have already made aliyah, though many began their paperwork prior to the war.

On Friday, Natan Sharansky, a Ukrainian-born Soviet-era refusenik and former Jewish Agency chairman, called on Russian Jews to leave while they can.

“Since the beginning of Putin’s barbaric invasion of Ukraine, Israel has taken a cautious stance and offered only limited support to Ukraine,” he wrote on Facebook.

“In the past days and weeks, Russia, isolated as it is from the free world, strengthened its military and political alliance with Iran and Syria. At the same time, it took steps to stop the operations of the Jewish Agency, the central organization connecting Israel and the Jews of the Diaspora, in its territory,” he added.

After noting that Soviet Jews found ways to make aliyah even before the Jewish Agency was allowed to begin operating in 1989, Sharansky concluded, “I want to finish this post with a message to all of our Jewish brethren in Russia who are seriously considering immigrating to Israel: I urge you not postpone the implementation of your plans.”