Lapid ‘ready for dialogue’ with Kremlin amid row over Jewish Agency

Israel’s interim prime minister has softened his rhetoric against Russia amid the diplomatic crisis.

By The Algemeiner

Israeli Prime Minister Yair Lapid said Israel remains prepared for “dialogue” with Russia, amid a diplomatic row between the two countries over Russian efforts to shutter the local operations of the Jewish Agency.

“The relations between Israel and Russia are based on a long history, regular communication and mutual interests,” Lapid said in a statement on Tuesday. “The Jewish community is at the heart of these relations.”

“If there are legal issues that arise in relation to the important activity of the Jewish Agency in Russia, Israel is, as always, ready and prepared to engage in dialogue while maintaining the important relations between the countries,” he continued.

The comments came in direct response to remarks made earlier Tuesday by Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov while addressing reporters about Russia’s legal bid to close the Jewish Agency’s work in the country, which helps Jews emigrate to Israel. Russia’s Ministry of Justice said last week that it had filed a request to remove the agency from the state register of legal entities, claiming that the organization violated Russian law by allegedly maintaining a database of Russian Jews planning to make aliyah.

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“There is no need to politicize this situation and project it onto the entire range of Russian-Israeli relations,” Peskov told reporters Tuesday. “It’s necessary to take a careful approach here, but also to realize that all organizations must comply with Russian law.”

Both Peskov and Lapid appeared intent on lowering the temperature of the ongoing dispute, which Israel warned Sunday could threaten bilateral ties.

Some 16,000 Russian Jews have left for Israel since Moscow launched its invasion of Ukraine on Feb. 24. Since the war, Israel has sought to balance its support for Kyiv with key interests in Moscow, including the wellbeing of the country’s large Jewish population and the Israeli military’s ability to operate freely against Iran in neighboring Syria, where Russia maintains extensive influence.

The Israeli Foreign Ministry on Monday said it would increase its humanitarian support to Ukraine, Israel’s Kan broadcaster reported — pledging to transfer 2.5 million shekels ($725,000) in funding directly to at least nine Ukrainian aid organizations, instead of sending support only to the country’s government. The ministry said there was “no connection” between the increase in aid and Israeli-Russia relations, the report said.

Still, Tuesday brought a fresh reproach of Israel from Russia’s foreign ministry — whose spokesperson Maria Zakharova blasted Jerusalem’s support for the Ukrainian cause, in comments on Russian television.

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“Unfortunately, in recent months we have heard, at the level of statements, completely unconstructive and, most importantly, biased rhetoric from Tel Aviv,” Zakharova said. “It has been completely incomprehensible and strange to us.”

“When now we hear comments from the leadership of this country that some of Russia’s actions on the bilateral track may affect relations, I want to ask whether these same people think that their actions and statements during these months have already affected bilateral relations,” she continued.

While serving as foreign minister in April, Lapid was vocal in condemning Russia’s “horrific war crimes” committed in the Ukrainian town of Bucha, and Israeli leaders were later outraged by comments in May from Russia’s Foreign Minister, Sergei Lavrov, about Adolf Hitler supposedly having “Jewish blood.”

Israel has prepared but not yet sent a diplomatic delegation to fly to Moscow to address the Jewish Agency dispute, which is set for discussion at a court hearing on Thursday.