Israeli efforts to defuse Jewish Agency’s Russia crisis reach impasse

Trial that could lead to liquidation of Jewish Agency activities in Russia to begin August 19.

By David Hellerman, World Israel News

An Israel delegation’s efforts to defuse Russia’s crackdown on the Jewish Agency has reached an impasse, the Jerusalem Post reported on Monday night.

Diplomatic sources told the Post that “the meeting took place on Monday morning between public servants and not with the political echelon that actually makes decisions. Therefore, as expected, the meeting was very technical and discussed the legal implications of the Russian privacy laws.”

The Jewish Agency, a quasi-governmental organization which facilitates aliyah, faces a ban on its activities in Russia, with Moscow claiming it violated Russian privacy laws. Israeli officials believe the crackdown is political, in response to Israeli support for Ukraine.

The Agency was ordered to cease its activities pending a trial scheduled to begin on August 19. A pre-trial hearing was held on Thursday, but according to the Post, no decisions were made.

Further complicating matters, Russia recently broadened its definition of “foreign agents.” According to a Moscow Times report cited by the Post, the definition now includes “those who take part in any activity that authorities determine goes against Russia’s national interests or who receive support of any kind, not just money, from abroad.”

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As a result, representatives of Jewish organizations such as the Jewish Agency can now be categorized by Moscow as “foreign agents.”

An Israeli official cited by the Post said that “the hope was that the Russians would give a hint towards a direction that would help the Israelis understand what can be done in order to save the Jewish Agency in Russia from liquidation. Unfortunately, it didn’t happen.”

The Israeli delegation — made up of diplomatic, legal and immigration officials — is being led by Tamar Kaplan, the Foreign Ministry’s deputy legal adviser.

Prime Minister Yair Lapid has warned that shuttering the Jewish Agency’s offices in Russia could have “serious consequences” on diplomatic relations between Jerusalem and Moscow.

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.