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Russia's justice ministry asks court to dissolve the country's branch of Jewish Agency

Court case is reportedly connected to unspecified violations of Russian law during the agency’s activities in the country
Immigrants from Ukraine wave Israeli flags after arriving at Israel's Ben Gurion Airport in Lod on 20 February, 2022 (AFP)
Immigrants from Ukraine wave Israeli flags after arriving at Israel's Ben Gurion Airport in Lod on 20 February 2022 (AFP)

Russia's Ministry of Justice is seeking to liquidate the Russian branch of the Jewish Agency, a Moscow court said on Thursday.

The Jerusalem-based Jewish Agency for Israel is the largest Jewish non-profit organisation in the world that encourages and helps Jewish emigration to Israel.

"The court received an administrative complaint from the justice ministry's main department requesting the dissolution," said Ekaterina Buravtsova, spokeswoman for the Basmanny court in Moscow, quoted by Russian agencies.

'The attempt to punish the Jewish Agency for Israel's stance on the war is deplorable and offensive'

- Nachman Shai, Israeli diaspora affairs minister

The website of the Basmanny district court said the ministry filed the request on 15 July and it would be discussed on 28 July. It did not provide a reason for the launching of the case. 

The move against the Jewish Agency comes amid an ongoing diplomatic spat between the two countries over Russia's military operations in Ukraine. Although Israel has not sent military aid to Ukraine, it has condemned Russia's invasion of its neighbour.

In April Israeli Foreign Minister Yair Lapid accused Moscow of committing war crimes in Ukraine. The following month, the Russian foreign ministry claimed that Israeli mercenaries were fighting Russia as part of a far-right Ukrainian regiment.

"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," said Israeli Diaspora Affairs Minister Nachman Shai in response to news of the court filing.

Interfax news agency reported earlier that the court case is connected to unspecified violations of Russian law during the agency’s activities in the country.

According to Haaretz, the news of the ministry's request came shortly after Israel had clarification from Moscow following reports that the Kremlin had threatened to shut down the Jewish Agency’s aliyah (migration) activities in Russia amidst a sharp increase in emigration to the Jewish state.

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Israel was concerned that the organisation might be designated a foreign agent by Russian officials angered by the country's response to the invasion of Ukraine, according to another Israeli outlet, Walla news.

The Israeli foreign ministry initially refrained from involving itself in the issue, preferring to allow the agency to handle it independently.

Last week Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Mikhail Bogdanov told the Israeli ambassador to Moscow that the background to the Russian justice ministry's proceedings against the agency was not political. 

However, more and more senior Israelis believe that this move by Russia is intended to demonstrate to Israel Moscow's dissatisfaction with the country's response to the war in Ukraine, Walla news reported.

Israeli officials believe the Russian invasion of Ukraine, which began in February, could prompt tens of thousands of Ukrainians to do aliyah - the Jewish migration to Israel - and the basic infrastructure for mass immigration has already been established.

The Ministry of Immigration and Absorption, the Jewish Agency, and the International Fellowship of Christians and Jews - a veteran philanthropic organisation that raises its funds mainly from evangelical Christians - already operate an emergency centre for Ukrainian Jews in need of evacuation from the war.

The International Fellowship has published an emergency call to its supporters, saying that “the Ukrainian Jews desperately need your help to ensure basic needs, emergency aid, and assistance with aliyah. Please help now.”

Nativ, an administrative unit at the office of the Israeli prime minister that encourages aliyah from former Soviet countries, said that because of the critical situation, all those wishing to emigrate to Israel can now pass the necessary tests for eligibility in consulates in Warsaw, Budapest, and Bucharest.

The Jewish Agency, meanwhile, sent several of its immigration experts to assist what is now described as “emergency immigration”.