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Israel in panic as Russia moves to close agency instigating immigration of Jews

A view shows the entrance to a Russian branch of the Jewish Agency for Israel, in Moscow, Russia, on July 21, 2022. (Photo by Reuters)

Russia's justice ministry has called for the “dissolution” of the Moscow branch of the Jewish Agency, a non-profit organization tied to the Israeli regime, as a delegation from Tel Aviv is expected in Moscow next week to discuss the matter with Russian authorities.

A district court in Moscow said in a statement on Thursday that the ministry filed the request on July 15 and it is slated for discussion on July 28.

“The court received a lawsuit filed by the main department of the Ministry of Justice in Moscow requesting the dissolution of the… Jewish Agency,” the Basmanny district court said in a statement that was carried by the Russian state-owned RIA Novosti news agency.

Ekaterina Buravtsova, a spokeswoman for the Basmany court, was quoted as saying that the request was made after legal violations by the Israeli agency, without providing further details, according to the Interfax news agency.

The Jewish Agency, in an apparent attempt to downplay concerns over its liquidation, said in a statement that the measure was only a “preliminary hearing” and a “continuation of the legal process” that was already underway.

“As we have previously stated, we are not making any comment during the course of the legal proceedings,” the organization said.

Last month, Russian authorities informed the Jewish Agency in a letter that they planned to take legal action against the organization, which is seen as an extension of the regime in Tel Aviv, carrying out its propaganda activities overseas.

The Jewish Agency initially sought to address the matter quietly, but later escalated it to the Israeli foreign ministry.

Israeli ministers have criticized the Russian justice ministry’s court filing, with diaspora affairs minister Nachman Shai saying in a statement that Moscow’s action against the agency was in retaliation for the Tel Aviv regime’s support of Ukraine and its stance on the Russian military operation in the country.

“Russian Jews will not be held hostage by the war in Ukraine. The attempt to punish the Jewish Agency for Israel’s stance on the war is deplorable and offensive,” Shai said.

Immigration and absorption minister Pnina Tamano-Shata said she was working with premier Yair Lapid and the foreign ministry to address the matter.

“There is no justifiable reason for halting the [Jewish] Agency’s operations, and there are therefore diplomatic efforts underway to clarify the situation and resolve the matter accordingly,” Tamano-Shata said.

Israel is scheduled to send a delegation to Moscow next week to meet with Russian officials on the issue.

Prime minister Yair Lapid held a “situational assessment” with officials from the foreign ministry and the so-called National Security Council about the matter on Thursday, his office said. 

The Jewish Agency is tasked with facilitating and encouraging immigration to the Israeli-occupied territories, or aliyah. People looking to immigrate to the occupied lands must submit applications through the organization. It also runs educational programs and a host of other activities.

Israeli-Russian relations have soured since the beginning of Moscow’s military operation in Ukraine in late February.

Observers had already predicted that the Russia-Ukraine crisis could put Israel in a difficult spot, as the Tel Aviv regime has good relations with both Moscow and Kiev.

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