Is Russia About to Shut Down a Jewish Agency?

Yair Lapid, Israel’s Interim Prime Minister, issued a major warning to Russia on July 24, 2022. 

Lapid stressed that if the Russian Ministry of Justice finalizes the shutdown of the Russian branch of the Jewish Agency for Israel bilateral relations between Russia and Israel will be severely damaged.

“Relations with Russia are important to Israel,” stated Lapid. He emphasized that “the Jewish community in Russia is large and important and comes up in every diplomatic discussion with the government in Moscow.”

The Cradle reported that the Russian Ministry of Justice ordered the dissolution of the Jewish Agency for Israel on July 21, 2022. 

The Jewish Agency for Israel is an international non-profit organization that promotes immigration to Israel among Jewish diasporas abroad.   

In addition, Lapid met with various Israeli officials and representatives of the Jewish Agency for Israel on July 24 to come up with the best way to respond to the Russian government’s actions against the NGO. 

One of the participants in the meeting declared that Russia’s military operation in Ukraine represents “an attack on the heart of the essence of the state of Israel. There is real fear that the Aliyah [Jewish immigration] from Russia will stop, and therefore the Israeli government is investing as much time and effort as needed.”

The closure order was issued following a lawsuit filed against the Jewish Agency for Israel branch in Moscow’s Basmanny District Court.

The Cradle noted that the alleged violations of Russian law the Jewish Agency for Israel committed have not been publicly specified thus far.  

Curiously, insider reports suggest that the Justice Ministry asserts that the agency was illegally collecting information about Russian citizens. 

The ministry filed the legal action back on July 15 and now another hearing is set for July 28. 

If the Jewish Agency is shut down via legal maneuvers, Israel plans on responding with various diplomatic measures.

The Cradle said that Israel’s retaliatory diplomatic measures “may include denying Russia its right to control an ancient Orthodox church in Jerusalem, over which Moscow has been pressuring the Israeli government.”

Israeli media have speculated that the Russian government’s actions towards this Jewish NGO could constitute a form of “political punishment” for Israel’s positions in support of Ukraine, which may have included public officials’ pro-Ukrainian statements or indirect forms of military aid to the Ukrainian military. 

Although Israel has not directly provided the Ukrainian military with arms, the Ukrainian ambassador to Israel has revealed that Israeli nationals are present in the foreign legion of the armed forces of Ukraine. 

Russia has been critical of Israeli nationals fighting alongside the Ukrainian army. It has also criticized Israeli nations for fighting next to neo-Nazi Ukrainian battalions. 

Lapid has been critical of Russia’s special military operation in Ukraine and has claimed that Russia has committed war crimes during this conflict. 

Back in April 18, the Israeli ambassador to Russia, Alex Ben Zvi, was summoned by the Russian foreign ministry to explain the “anti-Russia” statements Lapid made. 

The Russian government claimed that Israel’s concerns about the Russo-Ukrainian conflict were designed to divert attention away from the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. 

“There was a poorly camouflaged attempt to take advantage of the situation in Ukraine to distract the international community’s attention from one of the oldest unsettled conflicts – the Palestinian-Israeli one,” the Russian foreign ministry proclaimed. 

Lapid stated he would dispatch a delegation of ministerial representatives in addition to several Israeli ministers to Russia in order ease diplomatic tensions and prevent the shutdown of the Jewish Agency.

With Israel sharing a de facto border with Russia owing to the latter’s military presence in Syria, there’s increased speculation that any type of breakdown in diplomatic tensions between the two countries could result in Russia bolstering Syria’s military defenses and even boosting military ties with Iran. Both Syria and Iran are fierce rivals of Israel. 

In this new, multipolar environment, Israel will have to tread lightly lest it wants to face a nasty military reversal thanks to its overzealous foreign policy. 

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