Russia orders Jewish Agency to stop all operations in country - exclusive

Dramatic order given to Jewish Agency by government officials in Moscow • Israeli government considering next steps

Russian President Vladimir Putin enters a hall in the Kremlin in Moscow on April 26, 2022.  (photo credit: NATALIA KOLESNIKOVA/AFP via Getty Images)
Russian President Vladimir Putin enters a hall in the Kremlin in Moscow on April 26, 2022.
(photo credit: NATALIA KOLESNIKOVA/AFP via Getty Images)

The Russian government has ordered the Jewish Agency to cease all operations inside the country, The Jerusalem Post has learned.

The order was given in a letter received from the Russian Justice Ministry earlier this week. Officials in the Jewish Agency confirmed that the letter was received. They would not comment, however, on the response that is currently under consideration in the organization’s offices in Jerusalem in consultation with the Foreign Ministry and the Prime Minister’s Office.

“As part of the work of the Jewish Agency’s delegation in Russia, we are occasionally required to make certain adjustments, as required by authorities,” the agency said in response to a query from the Post. “The contacts with the authorities take place continuously, with the aim of continuing our activities in accordance with the rules set by the competent bodies. Even nowadays, such a dialogue takes place.”

A senior diplomatic official on Tuesday said: “Russia is saying the Jewish Agency illegally collected info about Russian citizens... We will bring up the Jewish Agency [with Russian authorities] and address it in an organized way. It will be taken care of at the embassy level. We don’t totally understand the reasoning [of the request to stop Jewish Agency’s activities in Russia].”

"People from the Jewish community have been feeling the Iron Curtain setting on them and they fear they won't be able to escape the country"

Senior sources
 UKRAINIAN JEWS fleeing from the Russian invasion wait to receive their entry papers to Israel, at an emergency shelter in Moldova last week (credit: YOSSI ZLIGER) UKRAINIAN JEWS fleeing from the Russian invasion wait to receive their entry papers to Israel, at an emergency shelter in Moldova last week (credit: YOSSI ZLIGER)

Israeli-Russian tension

The order comes amid growing tension between Israel and Russia over Jerusalem’s stance on the war in Ukraine and its policy of standing with Kyiv and its embattled leader, Volodymyr Zelensky. On Monday, Russia’s Foreign Ministry called strikes on Syria that have been blamed on Israel unacceptable, and it demanded an unconditional cessation of the attacks.

An order forcing the Jewish Agency to stop its work in Russia is dramatic and could directly undermine the ability of Russian Jews to immigrate to Israel. Thousands of them have finished their paperwork and have been waiting for flights to become available to Israel. However, the sanctions on Russia have caused most international airlines to stop flying to the country, and therefore, future immigrants are “stuck” in Russia, according to Israeli officials.

Jewish trouble in Russia

“People from the Jewish community have been feeling the Iron Curtain setting on them, and they fear they won’t be able to escape the country,” a senior source in Russia’s Jewish community told the Post. According to one source, “a number of Jews have said that the Russian authorities are trying to arrest them and that they fear for their lives.”

One of the main goals of the Jewish Agency is to promote and facilitate aliyah from Jewish communities around the world. If it will not be able to be active in Russia, this will be the first time in the past 30 years that aliyah efforts would be banned in the country.

Israel's response

In response to the report, Aliyah and Integration Minister Pnina Tamano-Shata said: “I was updated this morning regarding the decision of the Russian Ministry of Justice. As is well known, the Jewish Agency is a central arm of the government and the [Aliyah and Integration] Ministry for the assistance of the immigration of Jews from all over the world to the State of Israel.

“We must ensure that their scope of operation is maintained as it has been throughout the years. I appealed to the prime minister to work with the Moscow administration to resolve the problem, and I want to strengthen the Jewish community in Russia, which must be worried at this time about the consequences of the decision. Aliyah is a basic right for the Jews of Russia, and we will make sure that it is preserved as such,” Tamano-Shata said.

Russian response

According to the Russian media outlet RBC, “The Jewish Agency for Israel will continue to work in Russia in accordance with the law.” In response to the exclusive story in the Post about an official request of the Russian government to cancel the activities in the country, the RBC website said: “There have been no requests to stop [its] work.”

The reports about the possibility of JAFI’s closure were “speculation,” RBC quoted Russian Jewish Congress president Yuri Kanner as saying.

“What documents are there about this?” he asked. “There are none. These are someone’s speculations. I don’t think it will happen. The Jewish Agency operates all over the world.”

Russia and Israel have good relations, and Russia has many interests in Israel, Kanner said, according to the report.

 “I don’t think that there can be any problems in this regard right now,” RBC quoted him as saying.

According to the state-owned Gazeta.Ru news site, the Russian Foreign Ministry on Tuesday said: “The article is a provocation, which was announced to the Israeli side.”

In an additional response Tuesday evening, the Jewish Agency said: “The Jewish Agency wishes to clarify that, contrary to some publications, no directive has been received from the Russian government to terminate our activities. Hence all the plans of the Agency and all the planned activities continue as normal.”

“As part of ongoing control and inspection procedures conducted by the competent authorities in Russia for several years and following an administrative inspection procedure that lasted more than a year, the Agency’s offices in Moscow recently received a letter from the [Russian] authorities,” it said.

The letter mentioned “mainly administrative issues and points to problems that, according to its authors, have been criticized and their possible legal consequences,” it added.

“The letter invites the Agency to respond in writing regarding the facts stated in it. Therefore, the Agency intends to study in depth the meaning of the issues raised and their implications and to address them accordingly in the ongoing conversations with the authorities,” the Jewish Agency said.