Former chief rabbi of Moscow Pinchas Goldschmidt is a “foreign agent,” Russia’s Justice Ministry said, according to a report on Friday by Interfax.
“Goldschmidt disseminated false information about the decisions made by public authorities of the Russian Federation and their policies,” the report from the official Russian news outlet said, quoting the Justice Ministry. “He opposed the special military operation in Ukraine.”
Goldschmidt left Russia at the beginning of the war and called for Jews to leave Russia.
“When we look back over Russian history, whenever the political system was in danger you saw the government trying to redirect the anger and discontent of the masses towards the Jewish community,” Goldschmidt told The Guardian. “We saw this in tsarist times and at the end of the Stalinist regime.”
He argued that Russia’s floundering invasion of Ukraine is starting to foster a similar environment.
"Russia going back to a new kind of Soviet Union" - Goldschmidt
“We’re seeing rising antisemitism while Russia is going back to a new kind of Soviet Union, and step by step the Iron Curtain is coming down again. This is why I believe the best option for Russian Jews is to leave,” Goldschmidt said in January.
“When we look back over Russian history, whenever the political system was in danger you saw the government trying to redirect the anger and discontent of the masses towards the Jewish community.”Rabbi Pinchas Goldschmidt
Goldschmidt, 59, has been the president of the Conference of European Rabbis since 2011 and now lives in Israel after fleeing Russia in 2022. He was born and raised in Switzerland.
From 1993 until 2022, he held the position of chief rabbi at the Moscow Choral Synagogue in Russia. In 1989, he established and led the Moscow Rabbinical Court of the Commonwealth of Independent States.
A year ago, the board of the Moscow Jewish Religious Society made a decision to extend Goldschmidt’s contract, despite his absence in Israel for an extended period. However, according to a report by the Russian news organization RBC, the group representing Goldschmidt’s congregation and office stated that he no longer held a position there.
Olga Yessaulova, a spokesperson for the group, clarified that the contract had come to an end, and there were no plans for a successor, potentially leaving the position vacant. Yessaulova emphasized that Goldschmidt had not been dismissed from his role.
Last year, the Justice Ministry also recommended that the Jewish Agency be considered a foreign agent, but the matter has been in court for the past year, without any results. The Jewish Agency has since made changes to its operations and has lowered its profile in Russia.
Goldschmidt said on Saturday in a statement that he calls on the Jews of Russia to leave "before it's too late." He added that he is "Proud to be on the right side of history and to join a distinguished list of people who oppose an unjustified operation and the harming of innocents." He added that "for 30 years I have nurtured and preserved the Jewish community in Moscow, no order will prevent me from doing so even now." Goldschmidt added that this is the first time that a religious leader was declared a foreign agent in Russia.
"Russia has changed its face," he said adding dramatically that "I call on the Jewish community to leave the country, before it is too late."
JTA contributed to this report.