Putin’s Russia systematically expelling foreign rabbis

Russia has been expelling foreign rabbis, claiming they compromise the country’s security.

By: Batya Jerenberg, World Israel News

Chief Rabbi of Siberia Asher Krichevsky is the latest in a series of rabbis who have faced expulsion by Russia for purportedly threatening the country’s stability.

Krichevsky was stripped of his residence permit after being charged with attempting to “destroy Russia’s constitutional order,” according to a synagogue official in the Siberian city of Omsk.

Speaking to AFP, the unnamed official added, “Neither the rabbi nor his lawyer was informed of the exact nature of the charge because the case was immediately classified as secret.”

This is not the first time that a foreign-born rabbi has been accused of threatening state security.

In January, the JTA reported that a 12-year veteran Chabad rabbi from New York was deported because the Russian intelligence agency said he was involved in “extremist behavior” – but the court would not make the specific charges public.

Last year, Chabad’s emissary to Sochi was expelled as a “threat to national security.” And last May, the report continued, an Israeli rabbi serving a Moscow congregation was kicked out as well – although that time the reason given was that he had set up an organization without official authorization.

At the time, Boruch Gorin, spokesman for Chabad’s Federation of Jewish Communities, said the problem was that around half the 70 rabbis in Russia are not natives.

“The authorities wish to replace our foreign rabbis with Russian rabbis to head our communities in order to better control them,” he said, according to AFP.

Krichevsky, an Israeli-born Chabad emissary, has been working in Russia for 17 years. In 2014, the authorities ordered him deported for unnamed reasons, although speculation at the time ranged from suspicions that he was an Israeli spy to a purely local initiative on the part of anti-West officials. However, he appealed the ruling to Russia’s Supreme Court and was successful.

Krichevsky, 40, a father of seven, is now taking the same route and has yet to leave the country. Olga Sibireva of the SOVA Center for Information and Analysis, which researches relations between churches and secular society, political radicalism and government misuse of counter-extremism measures, told AFP that Krichevsky and the others are being victimized as part of a “cleanup operation targeting foreign missionaries and particularly religious organizations considered as sects,” she said.

The authorities are using an anti-terrorism law to expel Mormons, Pentecostal Christians, Jehovah’s Witnesses and other Protestants as well. In 2016, a lawyer for one of the missionaries, who was eventually allowed to return to Russia, said the religious representatives were being driven out “for the benefit of the Orthodox Church, which doesn’t want competitors.”

Meanwhile, President Vladimir Putin’s spokesman, Dmitry Peskov, denied the existence of a wholesale crackdown on the foreign rabbis and Christians.

“One can’t give an overall opinion on this topic. You need to look at each case individually,” he said.