Russia's move to oust Jewish Agency is act of revenge, observers say

In depth: Moscow angered by PM's condemnation over Ukraine war, attacks in Syria near Russian bases and disputed ownership of Jerusalem Church, sources say, but believe decision to end agency operations is reversible
Itamar Eichner|
Prime Minister Yair Lapid, on Thursday, dispatched his national security advisor Eyal Hulata to Moscow to begin discussions with his Russian counterpart over the recommendation to end Jewish Agency operations in that country.
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  • Earlier in the day, Russia's Justice Ministry announced its recommendation to end the agency's mandate to assist Russian Jews to immigrate to Israel.
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     Vladimir Putin, Yair Lapid
     Vladimir Putin, Yair Lapid
    Vladimir Putin, Yair Lapid
    (Photo: EPA, GPO)
    But Lapid intends to tackle the problem from more angles and after consultations held with officials, had decided that a delegation from his office, the ministries of justice, immigration and absorption, and the foreign ministry, will head to Russia early next week.
    Israel is on a short time schedule as the matter of the Jewish Agencies Russian operations, is to be adjudicated in Moscow in a weeks' time.
    "The Jewish community in Russia is deeply connected to Israel and its important surpasses any other matter of policy we have with the Russians," Lapid said.
    "We will continue to act through diplomatic channels so that the important work of the Jewish Agency would continue," he said.
    If the Jewish Agency is forced to close its doors, the immigration of Jews from that country will suffer severely. The current crisis that has been brewing for a while, is a new high in tensions between the countries, in the wake of the Russian invasion of Ukraine.
    Lapid had adopted a rigid position against Russia since its forces invaded their neighboring country five months ago and was the first among Israel's leaders to join the West in condemning Russian President Vladimir Putin.
    Officials in Jerusalem view the crisis as politically motivated and an act of vengeance.
    According to a report by the Interfax, the Russian news agency, the demand of the justice ministry as it was delivered to the district court in Moscow, refers to "unspecified violations of Russian law."
    The Jewish Agency had already considered halting its activity in Russia after the government there, demanded information about its operations.
    An official letter was sent to the agency a month ago, containing questions which indicated Russia was aiming to shut those operations down. In the letter, the Russians asked if the Jewish Agency has a data base of Russian nationals.
    The Russians may claim that the Jewish Agency is compromising the privacy of Russians by created their data base – which is illegal in Russia.
    The Justice Ministry reported to the court that after reviewing documents provided by the agency, a decision was taken to shut the operations down.
    They also claim the Agency was favoring Russians who work in the fields of science and business and their departures could impact the Russian Federation's scientific and business potentials.
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    Russian immigrants in Israel
    Russian immigrants in Israel
    Russian immigrants in Israel
    (Photo: Ittai Shickman)
    Observers of the Israeli-Russian relations say the decision would not have been made had Israel not taken its position on the war in Ukraine. They believe Lapid's statements even before he became prime minister and while he headed the Foreign Ministry, angered the Kremlin.
    Lapid then said that Russia had committed war crimes in Bucha and led the move to join a UN condemnation of the alleged murders of civilians there, by Russian forces.
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    גופות בבוצ'ה
    גופות בבוצ'ה
    Bodies uncovered in Bucha, Ukraine after Russian troops withdrew
    (Photo: AP)
    The Russians were also angered by Israel's continued strikes in Syria, against Iranian entrenchment efforts and especially the attacks on the Damascus International Airport and the port in Tartus, where the Russians have a naval base.
    Another ongoing dispute is over the Alexander Nevsky Church, in the Old City of Jerusalem which the Russians claim as their own.
    The move against the Jewish Agency could be viewed as pressure to settle that dispute.
    A senior official said the agency was negligent in its handling of the crisis after it had been raided a number of times of the past two years but it did not inform the government or seek its intervention.
    "The Russians were waiting for such an opportunity and the Jewish Agency gave it to them," the official said.
    But other officials in Jerusalem believe the Russian decision may be reversed.
    A senior member of the government said that if not handled properly, the crisis could intensify.
    "Russia may also come after the Nativ organization, an administrative unit at the Prime Minister's Office which is tasked with granting immigrants, confirmation of their Jewish heritage in order to comply with Israel's Law of Return
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