Russian authorities investigated Jewish Agency for three years

Russia has been inspecting the Jewish Agency for three years before ordering it to stop operations in the country.

Russian President Vladimir Putin speaking during an official inauguration of the monument honoring the heroes of the siege of Leningrad (photo credit: AMOS BEN-GERSHOM/GPO)
Russian President Vladimir Putin speaking during an official inauguration of the monument honoring the heroes of the siege of Leningrad
(photo credit: AMOS BEN-GERSHOM/GPO)

The Jewish Agency has been under investigation by Russian officials for the past three years, during which information and hardware from their offices were examined closely.

In a letter sent to the Jewish Agency this week, revealed exclusively by The Jerusalem Post, the Agency received a list of what the Russian Justice Ministry sees as violations of the law and the consequences of these violations.

As reported on Tuesday, a senior Israeli diplomatic official said that “Russia has claimed that the Jewish Agency illegally collected information about Russian citizens.”

As every organization would do, especially ones that promote immigration to another country, the Jewish Agency’s offices in Russia collect information about people who apply for aliyah or who participate in their activities.

According to DLA Piper, a multinational law firm, amendments to the Russian Data Protection Act were adopted and came into force in 2015. The amendments require all personal data operators to store and process any personal data of Russian individuals within databases located in Russia (subject to few exceptions).

 THE JEWISH AGENCY headquarters in Jerusalem - the next home for Danny Danon? (credit: YONATAN SINDEL/FLASH90) THE JEWISH AGENCY headquarters in Jerusalem - the next home for Danny Danon? (credit: YONATAN SINDEL/FLASH90)

Violations of Russian law

According to the amendment, the penalty for violation of this requirement is ultimately the blocking of websites involving unlawful handling of Russian personal data.

According to the Russian law, in order to transfer personal data outside Russia’s borders, the operator has to ensure that the rights of personal data subjects will have a high level of protection in the new country destination – before actually transferring the data.

The ministry indicated that the agency officials in Russia have violated the law, since the information gathered there is shared with its offices in Jerusalem or with Israeli government offices in order to proceed with immigration.

The letter stated that the agency should respond to the allegations and may have to cease activities in Russia if found guilty of the charges.

Agency criticized for handling of crisis

According to critical diplomatic officials, the Jewish Agency didn’t update senior diplomatic or government officials regarding the letter, even though it has great implications for the State of Israel.

The officials said they must be transparent since it’s a public and national institution. The officials added that Russian authorities asserted that information about Russian citizens was transferred in an insecure manner.

Jewish Agency sources said that one option is to close down the NGO in Russia affiliated with the agency and open a new one under a similar or totally different name.

A diplomatic source told reporters on Tuesday that “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,” adding that “we don’t totally understand the reasoning” of the request to stop the agency’s activities in Russia.