Israel Warns Russia That Shutdown Of Immigration Agency Would Hurt Relations
By RFE/RL July 24, 2022
Israeli Prime Minister Yair Lapid has warned Russia against shutting down an agency that processes the immigration of Jews to Israel, saying the move would have a serious impact on bilateral ties.
Lapid told a meeting of senior officials on July 24 that closing the offices of the Jewish Agency for Israel would be a "serious event that would affect relations," a government statement said.
Russia's Justice Ministry has demanded that the Russian branch of the agency be shut down, and Moscow's Basmanny district court has scheduled a hearing on the ministry's request for July 28.
Kremlin spokesperson Dmitry Peskov said the Justice Ministry request came after the organization violated Russian laws. He denied that Moscow wanted to prevent more "bright minds" from leaving Russia for Israel.
The Jerusalem Post cited a top Israeli diplomatic official as saying that the Russian ministry's request is based on allegations that the agency, also known as Sohnut, "illegally collected info about Russian citizens."
Lapid ordered a delegation to make plans to head to Moscow for talks aimed at reversing the decision, the Israeli government statement said.
The Jewish Agency for Israel, established in 1929, began working in Russia in 1989 and has assisted hundreds of thousands of Jews from all over the U.S.S.R. to immigrate to Israel.
The Israeli Integration Ministry says nearly 17,000 people have left Russia for Israel this year so far, more than twice as many as last year.
Closing the agency's Russian branch would not stop Russian Jews from moving to Israel, but it could slow down the process.
Some Israelis see the threatened shutdown as punishment for Israel's stance on Russia's war on Ukraine.
Lapid has taken a tougher stance over the conflict than Israel's former prime minister, Naftali Bennett, who stepped aside on July 1.
As foreign minister in Bennett's government he accused Russia of violating the "world order" in February when Russia launched its invasion of Ukraine.
Bennett stressed Israel's strong relations with both sides, withheld direct criticism of the invasion, and subsequently tried to play a role as mediator between Kyiv and Moscow.
Lapid has renewed his criticism of Russia since becoming prime minister, but has still tried to walk a cautious line.
With reporting by AFP and dpa
Copyright (c) 2022. RFE/RL, Inc. Reprinted with the permission of Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty, 1201 Connecticut Ave., N.W. Washington DC 20036.
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