Jewish Agency reviewing options ahead of possible Russia shutdown

A senior official at the Jewish Agency told the Post: "The agency has no intention of closing down its activities and leaving Russia. We will adapt ourselves to the requirements of Russian law."

 A view shows a sign at the entrance to a Russian branch of the Jewish Agency for Israel, in Moscow, Russia July 21, 2022.  (photo credit: REUTERS/EVGENIA NOVOZHENINA)
A view shows a sign at the entrance to a Russian branch of the Jewish Agency for Israel, in Moscow, Russia July 21, 2022.
(photo credit: REUTERS/EVGENIA NOVOZHENINA)

The heads of the Jewish Agency are expected to officially end its physical activities and presence in Russia, according to a senior source close to the organization, despite progress on tension between Russia and Israel thanks to the mediation of President Isaac Herzog.

The Jerusalem Post has learned that a heated meeting took place at the agency’s headquarters in Jerusalem on Wednesday on how to move the operation from Russia to Israel. Whatever can be done online, such as the aliyah process, will be performed digitally.

“The Jewish Agency will operate all of its work on aliyah from Israel, online or by phone,” the source said. “The problem is that there will be no way to encourage aliyah from Russia,” something that the Agency has been doing successfully for years.

In addition, the Agency will change its model of operation to those of philanthropic foundations. “They won’t operate any physical activities in Russia after their ‘exodus’ from Russia, but will fund local activities or send temporary educators from Israel to assist with Jewish life,” the source revealed.

“The Jewish Agency will operate all of its work on aliyah from Israel, online or by phone”

Jewish Agency source

The Agency has approximately 200 employees in Russia and three full-time Israeli shluhim (emissaries), whose contract ended during the summer and who are not expected to return to Russia. The Agency has not found replacements for these shluhim, who run activities in Moscow and St. Petersburg.

 Keren Hayesod and the Jewish Agency thank Pastor Larry Huch for helping Jewish refugees flee Ukraine to Israel. (credit: KEREN HAYESOD) Keren Hayesod and the Jewish Agency thank Pastor Larry Huch for helping Jewish refugees flee Ukraine to Israel. (credit: KEREN HAYESOD)

“The consequences are that there will be no aliyah activities in Russia, in any form,” said the source. “No one will give you information about aliyah, and there will be no physical representative. You will have to connect to the Global Center in Israel.”

The Jewish Agency operates Sunday schools across the country, supports local communities in organizing events for Jewish holidays, and organizes youth activities that promote participation in long-term programs in Israel, such as Masa.

Herzog calls Putin

Amid threats to stop the Agency’s operation in Russia, Herzog spoke with Russian President Vladimir Putin on Tuesday as part of an Israeli effort to overturn the decision.

The two presidents discussed bilateral matters between the countries, the challenges of the Jewish Diaspora, and the ongoing crisis with the Agency.

Putin told Herzog that he remains committed to commemorating the Holocaust, and promised to stand by Jewish communities in Russia. According to one of Herzog’s spokesmen, the discussion was frank and honest, with each side emphasizing important areas of cooperation between their two countries.

A meeting between an Israeli delegation sent to Moscow and Russian officials from the Justice and Foreign ministries last week hit a dead end on the Agency’s presence in Russia.

Statements from the Jewish Agency

“The Agency has no intention of closing down its activities and leaving Russia,” said a senior official. “We will adapt ourselves to the requirements of Russian law and operate within its framework, but we will continue to be present and operate in Russia, as far as this is legally possible for us.”

A court hearing was set for August 19, during which the judges may ban the Agency’s activity, as recommended by the Justice Ministry more than a month ago.

Greer Faye Cashman contributed to this report.