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July 28, 2022 2:48 pm
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Israel Ready to Make ‘Adjustments’ to Deal With Russian Move to Close Jewish Agency

avatar by Sharon Wrobel

A view shows the entrance to a Russian branch of the Jewish Agency for Israel, in Moscow, Russia July 21, 2022. REUTERS/Evgenia Novozhenina

Israel is prepared to deal with the Russian government’s legal claims against the Jewish Agency and make changes necessary to enable its continued operations in the country, said Aliyah and Integration Minister Pnina Tamano-Shata after a preliminary court hearing in Moscow.

“The Israeli government is providing the necessary legal framework for the Jewish Agency to deal with the allegations raised by the Russian Ministry of Justice, and I am sure that the issue will be clarified quickly, even if some adjustments are required — we are prepared for that,” Tamano-Shata said.

An initial court hearing took place on Thursday in proceedings against the Jewish Agency, which helps Jews emigrate to Israel. Russia’s justice ministry is seeking to shutter the Russian branch of the organization, alleging a breach of privacy laws. A new hearing date for the presentation of arguments was scheduled for Aug. 19.

“The Jewish Agency for Israel plays a critical role in cultivating Jewish identity and establishing a connection to Israel for Jews all over the world,” acting Jewish Agency chairman Yaakov Hagoel said. “As such, its vital activities that serve the Jewish communities in Russia will continue in order to ensure the community thrives and remains connected to their heritage and the State of Israel.”

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An Israeli delegation, including legal staff,  traveled to Moscow on Wednesday for talks with Russian officials, amid concern that the potential closure of the world’s largest Jewish non-profit would threaten the rights of Russia’s large Jewish community and strain relations between the two countries.

“The issue of Jewish immigration is not a card for political bargaining, and it is a basic right that exists for all Jews of the world, as well as for the Jewish community in Russia,” Tamano-Shata remarked. “Russian authorities have respected this for decades and so it will remain.”

Speaking at an online forum with journalists, Pinchas Goldschmidt — the former chief rabbi of Moscow, who left Russia to oppose its invasion of Ukraine — said Thursday that many Jews in the country fear a “closing of the Iron Curtain, meaning that one day in the near future it will be impossible to leave.”

“These are complicated times and there are many dark clouds on the horizon, also for the Jewish community, and this has been reflected in a great exodus of members of the Jewish community,” Goldschmidt said. “Over the last month, it’s very hard, physically, to get a plane ticket.”

He said it has been “impossible” to travel to the United States or elsewhere in the West, and that some travel arrangements have tripled in price. Hours-long questioning at passport controls have also weighed on departing Russian Jews, according to Goldschmidt.

Many Russian Jews trying to leave fear a rise in antisemitism, he added.

“In recent weeks, there have been arrests of major academics in Russia — many of them are of Jewish descent, and this has been noted by the Jewish community,” he said.

Some 600,000 Russians are eligible to emigrate to Israel. Goldschmidt estimated that at least 51,000 members of the Jewish community, including those who already have Israeli citizenship, have moved from Russia to Israel since the Feb. 24 invasion of Ukraine.

“What has become clear from statements on both sides in recent days is that the security and the future of Jews in Russia is dependent on Israel,” he cautioned.

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