Jewish Agency lowers profile in Russia, less activity in FSU countries - exclusive

Apart from political considerations, steep budget cuts by the Aliyah Ministry have led to a marked decrease in the Agency's activity.

 Andrei Grishayev, a lawyer of the Russian branch of the Jewish Agency for Israel, speaks with journalists after a hearing outside a court building in Moscow, Russia, February 20, 2023.  (photo credit: REUTERS/TATYANA MAKEYEVA)
Andrei Grishayev, a lawyer of the Russian branch of the Jewish Agency for Israel, speaks with journalists after a hearing outside a court building in Moscow, Russia, February 20, 2023.
(photo credit: REUTERS/TATYANA MAKEYEVA)

The Russian courts haven’t yet determined if the Jewish Agency’s activities in the country are considered as being done by a “Foreign Agent.” As a result, almost all active steps towards connecting Jews in the former Soviet Union countries have been frozen, The Jerusalem Post has learned. As published by the paper three weeks ago, the Jewish Agency instructed its emissary in Belarus to stop its activities with regard to promoting aliyah (immigration to Israel). The Post understands that this was the situation in other FSU countries – except for Ukraine of course.

After the Post asked the agency for a response three weeks ago, another letter was sent to the representative, who was then instructed to “freeze” the cancellation of activities relating to promoting aliyah, according to two sources who saw the correspondence. Since then, the same official in the agency’s Jerusalem offices has given the same instructions for freezing activity, but this time it was done verbally, by phone.

Staff in Russia is on paid leave

Sources in the agency claim that in all FSU countries except for Ukraine, its activities have been cut down tremendously. As reported months ago, a large percentage of the agency’s staff in Russia are on paid leave and not fulfilling their duties. Activities such as Sunday schools continue, but there is no proactive approach towards promotion of aliyah or a connection with Israel. One source close to the agency said that its staff “will only host activities in their offices, but not anywhere else – and definitely not in public.”

Another source said that “if you call the agency’s hotline for information about aliyah you’ll receive information, but there are no active attempts to approach potential olim [immigrants].”

 Jewish Agency Chairman Doron Almog. (credit: MARC ISRAEL SELLEM) Jewish Agency Chairman Doron Almog. (credit: MARC ISRAEL SELLEM)
The reasons for this type of behavior definitely have to do with the fact that the political situation in the region is delicate and many of the other countries have deep and strategic ties with Russian President Vladimir Putin.

Budget cuts

The reason may also be financial: The Aliyah and Integration Ministry has instructed a cut in the upcoming approved budget for promoting aliyah from the FSU by 37% – from NIS 9.4 million in 2022 to NIS 6 million. This cut was made by the previous government and Russia is the only area in the world that was cut, even though it has a majority of the olim. The cut is more than half of the NIS 12.7 million that was approved by the government for promoting aliyah from the FSU. These funds are allocated to the Jewish Agency and the World Zionist Organization through Ofek Israeli, a joint venture between these organizations and the government.

Also, it is expected that there will less donations from Jewish Russian businessmen to the agency because of the sanctions. These two cuts may be an explanation for the fact that the agency isn’t investing as many resources, as it did in the past, in aliyah from the FSU.

“There is no change in the work or policies of the Jewish Agency in Belarus and no activity that was planned to take place has been canceled.”

Jewish Agency

THE AGENCY responded to the Post with the exact same comment from three weeks ago: “There is no change in the work or policies of the Jewish Agency in Belarus and no activity that was planned to take place has been canceled.” The agency’s spokeswoman added in a written comment that “the Jewish Agency continues to carry out educational activities and take care of [future] immigrants throughout the country and it helps anyone who wants to immigrate to Israel, as it has done in previous years.”

The rates of aliyah are still very high, hundreds of percent more than they were up until a year ago – since the Russian-Ukrainian War broke out. During January 2023, most of the immigrants to Israel came from Russia – more than 5,500 olim, an increase of 637% compared to the number of immigrants in the corresponding period during 2022.

According to a Jewish Agency report, obtained by The Jerusalem Post, during January 2023, there were 6,622 olim arriving in Israel through the agency, 211% more than during January 2022.

The report stated that 6,180 olim arrived in Israel from FSU countries through the Jewish Agency during January 2023, representing 93% of all those who made aliyah during this month. This is an increase of 479% compared to the number of FSU olim during the same month last year. More than 320 of the olim were from Ukraine, and 159 came from Belarus.

The number of olim from Russia proves that the aliyah from this country isn’t decreasing, as happened with Ukraine. This is the second most popular month of aliyah from Russia since the war broke out, after November 2022 when more than 6,700 Russians made aliyah. During the entire previous year, less than 4,000 made aliyah from the US and Canada, showing that Russians are by far the most interested in making aliyah to Israel.