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When Devorah Leah Bandorenko went with her three-year-old son to the Israeli Embassy here earlier this year to apply for a tourist visa to visit her ailing 85-year-old grandmother in Karmiel, she did not expect to be asked whether she was a prostitute.
"I couldn't believe it," said the Orthodox Bandorenko, who covers her hair with a wig and works full-time at the Chabad-Lubavitch Center in Volgograd.
"The official at the Israeli Consulate told me I need to bring proof that I will not sell my child in Israel, and that I do not plan to work there as a prostitute," she said in an interview in fluent Hebrew, with tears welling up in her eyes.
"They told me that I was young and attractive, so they suspected that I was planning to go to Israel to make some money in a sordid and disgusting way. How can they treat people like this? And just how is someone supposed to prove that they are not a prostitute?"
Six months after submitting her application, Bandorenko has yet to receive a visa.
Although the Foreign Ministry vigorously denies that Russian Jewish women seeking visas at the Moscow embassy are subject to such questioning, Bandorenko, it appears, is not alone in having been confronted in such a manner by Israeli consular officials.
"That is a known thing, it has been going on for some time," said an Israeli official based in Moscow. "The consular staff frequently ask good-looking women seeking to visit Israel to prove that they are not prostitutes, or that they do not plan to work in the sex trade while they are there. It is completely outrageous, extremely insulting and it should be stopped."
"Consular officials do not speak that way, and I can assure you that such things do not happen," Foreign Ministry spokesman Eddie Shapira said.
According to Shapira, who served in Moscow until returning to Jerusalem last year, "Such claims are utterly baseless. Our staff meticulously follows the rules and procedures laid down by the Interior Ministry and by the consular section of the Foreign Ministry."
"Anyone who feels that a consular official has not treated them properly," he said, "can submit a complaint to the Interior Ministry and the Foreign Ministry, and it will be reviewed with the utmost seriousness."
Shapira noted that some 50,000 Russian citizens visited Israel last year, and that the consular staff at the Moscow embassy handled hundreds of requests for visas on a daily basis, largely without incident.
But Inna Chizikova, a Russian Jew with grown children who edits a Jewish community newspaper, told The Jerusalem Post about a similar experience she had when she went to the embassy to apply for a visa to attend her son's wedding in Jerusalem.
"My husband, my mother and I, together with our other son, went to request visas," Chizikova recalled. "Then, in front of my family members, the clerk told me that I was very pretty and asked if perhaps I was going to Israel to make money as a prostitute. My husband thought it was a joke, but for me it was terrible. I felt horrible afterward."