The Jewish Agency on Tuesday evening denied reports that it is being forced to close down operations in the country.
“The Jewish Agency wishes to clarify that, contrary to some publications, no directive has been received from the Russian government to terminate the activities of an association established by the Agency,” an agency statement said. “Thus all planned activities of the agency will continue as scheduled.”
However, the Agency did receive a letter from the Russian Justice Ministry which made a number of allegations against it and demanded a number of challenging steps which would severely hinder the organization’s operations in Russia, a Times of Israel (TOA) report stated.
Yigal Palmor, the head of the Jewish Agency’s international relations unit, told TOA that there was no demand that the organization close.
However, according to the agency, the letter highlighted the Agency’s “administrative issues” that could have “possible legal consequences.”
The “legal consequences” could make it extremely difficult for the Jewish Agency to operate in Russia.
Jewish Agency officials are speaking to Russian authorities about the demands, with the assistance of the Israeli Foreign Ministry and other government authorities.
Chief Rabbi of Moscow HaRav Pinchas Goldschmidt, who was forced to leave Russia after refusing to support Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, responded to the report by stating: “This is not the first time. In 1996, Yevgeny Primakov tried to shut down the Jewish Agency. I worked with Israeli Ambassador Alisa Shenhar to solve the problem. The US Ambassador Thomas Pickering was also helpful.”
The Jerusalem Post spoke with Deborah Lipstadt, the US Special Envoy to Monitor and Combating Antisemitism who is currently in the Middle East on her first overseas tour. Speaking from Israel after her landmark visit to Saudia Arabia, she said that the report about the Jewish Agency is “very disturbing.”
“A few weeks ago I met with Rabbi Goldschmidt who left Moscow quite abruptly in March, shortly after the Russians began the war because he refused to support the war,” she said. “He came to see me at the State Department, and one of the things he talked about was his fear that things might go badly for Jews in Russia and that the community was at a potential risk.”
“And when I hear something like this, I think, you know, maybe he’s right. It’s very disturbing.”
According to The Post, there are three possible reasons for Russia’s steps against the Jewish Agency. The first is that Agency encourages Russian Jews to make aliyah; secondly, it has taken a leading role in assisting Jews in Ukraine; and third, Russia is retaliating against Israel for its military strikes in Syria.
The report adds that the closing of the Jewish Agency would be a huge psychological blow to Russian Jews, many of whom view the Agency as a symbol of the Jewish people and Israel. Israel maintains embassies in only two Russian cities, Moscow and St. Petersburg, but the Jewish Agency has offices throughout Russia and sponsors numerous Jewish activities, including Sunday schools and Hebrew language classes.
(YWN Israel Desk – Jerusalem)