Israeli delegation heads to Moscow to stop closure of Jewish Agency

The office of the new Israeli Prime Minister, Yair Lapid, announced on Wednesday the visit of a Jewish delegation to Moscow on the night of that same July 27. The meeting, originally scheduled for last Sunday, comes a day before the first hearing of Russia’s call to ‘disband’ Jewish Agency offices, and aims to serve as a space for negotiation and rapprochement with Kremlin officials , preventing the closure of the local branch of the organization.

And it is that last week the Russian Ministry of Justice officially filed an appeal with the Basmanny District Court in Moscow, alleging that The Jewish Agency has violated the country’s privacy laws and should therefore shut down. It is now expected that, during the first hearing scheduled for Thursday 28, new evidence and clarifications will be provided.

SHLOMI AMSALEM/GOVERNMENT PRESS OFFICE VIA AP – Israeli Foreign Minister Yair Lapid speaks at the inauguration of the Israeli Embassy in Abu Dhabi, United Arab Emirates

The legal delegation must “be ready to leave for Moscow as soon as Russian approval for talks is received”, and will work to “exhaust all legal and diplomatic dialogue” to resolve the conflict, were the orders of leader Yair Lapid in this situation, already last Sunday. However, the Kremlin’s refusal to issue the necessary visas until Monday evening delayed the trip of the Hebrew representatives, and increased tension between the two powers.

REUTERS/EVGENIA NOVOZHENINA – Entry into a Russian branch of the Jewish Agency for Israel, in Moscow

What is the Jewish Agency?

The Jewish Agency for the Land of Israel, born in 1929 and having played a key role in the creation of the State of Israel (in 1948), is today the largest Jewish non-profit organization in the world. Despite the fact that this body officially claims its independence, its close ties with the State of Israel make it a quasi-governmental institution, one of whose main objectives is to facilitate the migration of Jews, from any country. of the world, to Hebrew territory.

His work on Russian soil began when he was still part of the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics (USSR), in 1989 – two years before the fall of the regime -, therefore contributed to the departure of hundreds of thousands of Jews from the USSR during the decline of the communist giant.

AFP/GIL COHEN STOMACH – This flight is part of Operation Zur Israel which aims to reunite 3,000 Ethiopians with their families in Israel

Relations between Russia, the Jewish Agency and Lapid’s Israel

“Relations between Russia and Israel are based on a long history, regular communication and mutual interests”said a spokesman for Prime Minister Yair Lapid a few days ago. “And the Jewish community is at the center of these relations”. However, the recent appeal by the Russian Ministry of Justice to the country’s judicial authorities, asking for the closure of the local branch of the Jewish Agency, seems to reflect a very different situation.

Although Russian-Israeli relations have gradually deteriorated since the start of the Russian offensive in Ukraine, the recent arrival of Yair Lapid (Minister of Foreign Affairs under Naftali Bennet) at the seat of the Hebrew government has only deepened the disagreements.

AP/ARIEL SHALIT – People hold banners as they take part in a protest against the Russian invasion of Ukraine, outside the Russian Embassy in Tel Aviv, Israel, Saturday, March 5, 2022.

“It didn’t happen under [el ex primer ministro Naftali] Bennett. did not occur under [el ex primer ministro Benjamin] Netanyahu. There is something about this government,” political analyst Ksenia Svetlova told The Times of Israel newspaper. And it is that Yair Lapid’s harsh rhetoric against Moscow’s ‘special military operation’ on Ukrainian soil – which he called a violation of “the world order” -, while cautious, is quite far from the watered-down position of his predecessor, Naftali Bennett, who limited direct criticism of the invasion and tried to play a mediating role between Kyiv and Moscow.

Therefore, several analysts claimed that the attempt to dismantle the Russian Jewish Agency could be nothing more than a Kremlin warning in response to Lapid’s continued condemnations of invasion.

AFP/GIL COHEN STOMACH — Ethiopian Jewish immigrants arrive in Israel on a special plane chartered by the Jewish Agency at Ben Gurion Airport in Lod on June 1, 2022

“The closure of the offices of the Jewish Agency would be a serious event that would affect relations,” Yair Lapid warned during a meeting with government leaders last Sunday. And, although Russian presidential spokesman Dmitry Peskov urged Israel “not to politicize the situation, nor to project it onto the whole of Russian-Israeli relations”, and to “have a cautious attitude towards to the situation”; Nachman Shai, Israeli Minister for Diaspora Affairs, did not hesitate to warn: “Russian Jews will not be held hostage by the war in Ukraine. Attempt to punish Jewish Agency for Israel’s stance on war is deplorable and offensive”.

AFP/NATALIA KOLESNIKOVA – In this file photo taken on December 17, 2020, Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov sits in front of a screen showing Russian President Vladimir Putin.

For his part, Ambassador Arkady Mil-Man argued in an article for the Israel Institute for National Security Studies that other reasons that could explain this decision would also be a significant rise in anti-Semitic sentiments in the country, the inadequate response from the Jewish Agency itself and the growing intolerance towards foreign entities. Something that has become evident with the recent Kremlin expansion of the “foreign agent” conceptby extending it to any entity that receives foreign support and participates in actions considered contrary to the national interest.

The role of the Jewish Agency in the Russian-Ukrainian conflict

Since the start of the war the Israeli organization facilitated the transfer of thousands of Ukrainians and more than 10,000 Russians to Jewish territory, under the so-called “Law of Return”. It is therefore already home to a Russian-speaking population of around 1.2 million people.

And, despite the fact that Israel has not imposed any sanctions on Moscow, as its Western partners have, nor sent military aid to Ukraine; the Hebrew government has indeed sent humanitarian aid and shipments of helmets and bulletproof vests to the attacked country; just as he also called the Russian offensive an “unwarranted invasion”. But, even in his critical position, Lapid did not want to completely lose his rhetorical moderation, since its alliance with the Kremlin is key to maintaining attack positions against Tehran-linked Iranian militias and groups (Israel’s main regional enemy) in Syrian territory, where Moscow’s troops support Bashar al-Assad’s regime.

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