JDC-funded social service group labeled ‘foreign agent’ by Moscow

Charitable organization looking into report about Hesed-Tshuva.

September 17, 2015 03:18
2 minute read.
jewish russia

MEMBERS OF THE community take part in a Rosh Hashana meal at the Hesed-Tshuva Jewish center in Ryazan, Russia. (photo credit: FACEBOOK)

An American Jewish charitable organization is investigating reports that the government of Russia has designated one of its grantees as a “foreign agent.”

According to a report on the Russian language news website HRO, the Hesed-Tshuva group, which is based in the city of Ryazan, located 200 km. south of Moscow, was placed on the list on September 11. Article 20, a Russian watchdog on human rights, reported the reason for the registration was not specified but that Hesed-Tshuva in question was registered as receiving donations only from the Joint Distribution Committee, or JDC.

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JDC’s policy in Russia and in other countries around the world is to avoid taking part in partisan activities.

Any organization that engaged in “political activity” and receives foreign funding must be designated a foreign agent according to Russian law.

Hesed is a network of Jewish social service centers operating throughout the former Soviet Union. It has proven crucial in providing aid for Jews fleeing the war in Ukraine as well as the elderly and disabled throughout Russia and beyond.

“We have seen the JTA story and are looking into this,” Michael Geller, a spokesman for the JDC, told The Jerusalem Post in an email on Wednesday, declining to elaborate further.

Others, however, were not as reticent.

The JDC has previously been accused of being an “agent of imperialism and Zionism,” said Eduard Dolinsky of the Kievbased Ukrainian Jewish Committee.

“I think this is the first step to banning its activities in Russia,” he prognosticated.

Vyacheslav A. Likhachev, an anti-Semitism researcher affiliated with the Euro-Asian Jewish Congress and the Vaad of Ukraine, said the problem of the Russian legislation about foreign agents is that the “definition of political activities is too wide and uncertain.”

“Among it’s goals, [Hesed] in Ryazan [includes] ‘promotion of peace and trust, friendship and understanding between peoples; establishment and maintenance of conditions for the development and strengthening of inter-ethnic and inter-confessional relations; help to prevent ethnic and religious conflicts.’ Those goals really seem to be political, as well as goals of thousands [of] other Russian NGOs,” he said.

“But I don’t think we should talk about some kind of systematic state policy against Jewish organizations. Most likely, it’s almost an accident. The government can not control everything, even in Russia. Illogical and selective application of the law keeps everyone in good shape,” he joked.

Neither Chief Rabbi Berel Lazar nor the Russian Jewish Congress immediately responded to requests for comment.

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