An international campaign has been launched in an attempt to revoke a deportation order issued against the chief rabbi of Moscow's Choral Synagogue, The Jerusalem Post has learned.
Rabbi Pinchas Goldschmidt, one of the central figures in Russia's Jewish community, said Russian border guards had denied him entry to the country on Monday night when he returned there from a trip to Israel.
Speaking to the Post from Jerusalem on Wednesday, Goldschmidt said he had arrived in Moscow's Domodedovo International Airport on an El Al flight from Tel Aviv on Monday.
Goldschmidt explained that after arriving at passport control he was taken aside by Russian authorities and told that his documents were being processed for security reasons.
After waiting for half an hour, he was informed by the head of the passport section that his visa was being annulled and that he was being deported.
He was not given a reason for the decision to deport him, Goldschmidt said.
"I was told that my entry into the Russian Federation was prohibited and that I was being deported. That was all I was told. I was given two choices: fly back to Israel on the same plane I arrived, or wait for the morning flight to Switzerland," Goldschmidt, a Swiss citizen, said.
Sources close to the affair say that the governments of Israel, Switzerland and the US are holding contacts to find ways to resolve the case.
Foreign Ministry spokesman Mark Regev said Israel is aware of the incident, but would not comment further. Regev denied reports that pressure is being applied by Israel on the Russian Federation to repeal the rabbi's deportation order.
The Russian Foreign Ministry is investigating the motives behind the decision to cancel Goldschmidt's entry visa, ministry spokesman Mikhail Troyansky told Interfax on Wednesday.
Russian Chief Rabbi Adolf Shayevich said that his Congress of Jewish Religious Organizations and Associations asked the foreign ministry for an explanation of what happened to Goldschmidt but had not yet received an answer. He added that the incident may have been caused by the new entry visa rules for foreign clergy.
"Because of the new procedure, a foreign priest, rabbi or clergyman can come to our country only at the invitation of an existing centralized religious organization. As far as I know, Rabbi Goldshmidt received his invitation to come to Russia not from the Great Choral Synagogue of Moscow, but from business circles," Shayevich said.
MK Yuri Shtern (National Union), told the Post that he has petitioned Russia's Council of the Federation and the State Duma to correct the situation and restore Goldschmidt's entry visa.
"This is a very dangerous development, even if it was the stupid and illegal decision of a low-level clerk. It is a very damaging development for the Jewish community in Russia, and it may have a negative effect on Russian-Israeli relations," Shtern said.
Shtern, who was born in Moscow and made aliya in 1981, is the chairman of the Israel-Russia Interparliamentiarian Association.
He could not say if the decision to deport Moscow's rabbi was made at the political level, and added that Russia would "look much better if it closed this case very soon."
Shtern claimed Israel was officially involved in dealing with incident.
"Half of the planet is involved," Shtern told the Post.
Sources monitoring Russian-Jewish affairs said that many different governments are involved in a world-wide effort to rectify the situation, and that in general it was decided among those who are dealing with the issue not to go public with the affair for the moment. That could all change, the sources said, if efforts to repeal the deportation order are met with Russian resistance.
The source said that Goldschmidt is reported to have been invited to Russia by a business group.
Goldschmidt said he hoped the incident was a misunderstanding, adding that he had never before encountered problems entering Russia. Goldschmidt's Swiss passport is valid until August 2006.
According to Shayevich, the Russian Congress of Jewish Religious Organizations and Associations is currently looking into the possibility of sending an invitation to Goldshmidt so that he can return to Russia, where he has already been working for many years.
The President of the Russian Jewish Congress, Vladimir Slutsker, is deeply concerned by the fact that Goldshmidt was not allowed to enter Russia, Interfax reported.
"Rabbi Goldshmidt is an authoritative spiritual leader who has made an invaluable contribution to developing the Jewish community in Russia," claimed Slutsker's statement, circulated in Moscow on Wednesday.