Tensions in Russian-Israeli relations escalated again this week after Russia’s Ministry of Justice issued a request for liquidation of the Jewish Agency in Moscow, with Israel harshly rebuking the move.
It was on this Sunday that Israel’s acting prime minister Yair Lapid strongly criticized Russia’s decision to close the offices of the Jewish Agency in Moscow, saying that it was a “dangerous move that will have a negative effect on bilateral relations.” Lapid also spoke of the possibility of recalling Alex Zvi, Israel’s ambassador to Moscow, as a sign of protest to Russia’s controversial announcement.
According to Israeli media, Lapid planned to send an official delegation to Moscow to negotiate with the Russian authorities to hopefully prevent the closure of the Jewish Agency’s representative office, but Moscow has not yet granted visas to the designated envoys.
Established back in 1929, the Jewish Agency was instrumental in the formation of the state of Israel that happened in 1948. The Jewish Agency is headquartered in Jerusalem but has representative offices in many countries around the world. One of the important missions of this old-world Jewish organization is to encourage Jews from other countries to permanently immigrate to Israel and facilitate the process until they are settled in.
The Agency was in fact a great help to advance Israel’s Law of Return, which states that any Jewish person, or a person with one or more Jewish grandparents, has the right to settle in Israel and obtain citizenship. Since the collapse of the Soviet Union, the Jewish Agency has been conducting extensive activities in Russia and the republics of the former Soviet Union to bring as many Jews as possible to Israel for life-long residency.
However, the Ministry of Justice in Russia announced last week that the decision to close the office of the Jewish Agency in Moscow will soon be declared in a court order. The first preliminary hearing of the request for liquidation of the Jewish Agency is scheduled to be held on July 28 in the Basmani District Court of Moscow. Russia also insists that any information regarding Russian Jews who want to go to Israel be available to Moscow.
Mosco-Tel Aviv relations still in decline
Relations between Russia and Israel have been severely at odds in recent months, especially since Moscow’s invasion of Ukraine. Back in April, Lapid, who was Israel’s Foreign Minister then, accused Russia of carrying out war crimes in Ukraine, calling the attack a “flagrant violation of the international order.”
Then relations deteriorated even further when in May, Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov introduced Adolf Hitler as Jewish when he was asked about claims that Russia was trying to “de-nazify” Ukraine. A day after, Lapid hit back by calling Lavrov’s statement “unforgivable and scandalous and a horrible historical error.”
Israel also voted for the suspension of Russia from the United Nations Human Rights Council back in April. Russia, China, Cuba, North Korea, Iran, Syria, Vietnam, were among those who voted against. Not to mention that Israel has been sending financial and medical aid to Ukraine several times since the war erupted back in February 24.
Criticizing Russia’s latest move in the tit-for-tat game between the two countries, Nachman Shai, Israel’s diaspora affairs minister, said that Moscow’s intention for closing the Jewish Agency was indeed a retaliation for Israel’s support for Ukraine. “Russian Jews will not be held hostage for the war in Ukraine,” he tweeted Thursday, adding that “the attempt to punish the Jewish Agency for Israel’s stance on the war is deplorable and offensive.”