Israel, Russia working to deescalate tensions amid Jewish Agency row

Days before Moscow court hears case to suspend agency's activities in Russia, both parties exchange reassuring messages to avoid political fallout; Moscow says issue should be considered strictly legal
Itamar Eichner|
Israel and Russia were working to deescalate rising diplomatic tensions after Moscow sought to terminate its local branch of the Jewish Agency, sources familiar with discussions told Ynet on Monday.
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  • Moscow conveyed reassuring messages to Jerusalem that diplomatic ties between the countries remain unchanged and that the issue should be considered strictly a legal one.
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    ישיבת ממשלה
    ישיבת ממשלה
    Russian President Vladimir Putin and Prime Minister Yair Lapid
    (Photo: AP, Marc Israel Sellem)
    Israel also sent messages of reassurance to Russia that it was looking to settle the dispute and return to normal.
    Israel also reassured the Jewish community in Russia in an attempt to allay concerns about the impact closing the agency's offices could have on Israel-Russia relations and on Russia's relations with its Jewish community.
    Meanwhile, a formal Israeli legal delegation is struggling to obtain a visa to Russia and it was not clear whether it will be able to fly out in time for a court hearing in Moscow scheduled for Thursday.
    Jerusalem fears that such a move would undo the social fabric of the local Jewish community and herald additional measures against other Jewish organizations and even prohibit Russian Jews from leaving for Israel.
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    הסוכנות היהודית במוסקבה
    הסוכנות היהודית במוסקבה
    Jewish Agency HQ in Moscow
    (Photo: Reuters)
    However, one senior Israeli source claimed that Moscow's targeting of the Jewish Agency is part of its campaign to decouple from the West as opposed to a reaction to Israeli policy.
    "It's very difficult to interpret Putin. This seems very alarming, but it is in line with a general trend," the source said.
    "Russia is bringing down the iron curtain. It's not against us in particular, but against the West as a whole and we are a part of it. We should examine this from the perspective of a new iron curtain. They are getting rid of all Western organizations.
    "The agency is regarded as a pesky organization partially responsible for Russia's brain drain problem and anything smacking of the West is thrown away. It should not be tied to Israel's position on Ukraine."
    The official estimated that the parties would eventually reach a solution to the Jewish Agency issue, but that may not be enough to end tensions with Moscow.
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