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August 9, 2022 11:12 am

Israeli and Russian Presidents Discuss Threat to Close Jewish Agency

avatar by Algemeiner Staff

A view shows the entrance to a Russian branch of the Jewish Agency for Israel in Moscow. Photo: Reuters/Evgenia Novozhenina

Israeli President Isaac Herzog spoke by telephone with Russian leader Vladimir Putin on Tuesday, in a bid to take the sting out of the tensions between the two countries that have multiplied in the wake of the invasion of Ukraine.

The official Israeli readout of the call offered few details, saying that Herzog had “elaborated on the issue of the activities of the Jewish Agency in Russia.” Last month, the Russian ministry of justice launched a legal effort to shutter the operations in Russia of the agency, which assists Jews wishing to emigrate to Israel, claiming that the agency had broken Russian law by allegedly maintaining a database with the details of Russian citizens.

The court hearing in the Jewish Agency case is scheduled for Aug. 19. Following a preliminary hearing at the end of July, Israel’s Aliyah and Integration Minister Pnina Tamano-Shata said that the Jewish state was “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.”

Herzog’s statement highlighted that the telephone call with Putin had been initiated “at the request of Prime Minister Yair Lapid and in coordination with the Ministry of Foreign Affairs.”

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“The phone call was frank and honest,” the statement said. “The two presidents emphasized the important areas of cooperation between Israel and Russia and agreed to remain in contact.” It added that Putin had “underscored his personal commitment to Holocaust commemoration and the fight against antisemitism.”

Israeli leaders reacted furiously to comments in May by Russia’s Foreign Minister, Sergei Lavrov, about Adolf Hitler supposedly having “Jewish blood,” while in April, Israel’s then Foreign Minister Yair Lapid denounced Russia’s “horrific war crimes” committed during its onslaught on the town of Bucha near Kyiv.

In Moscow, presidential spokesman Dmitry Peskov confirmed that the phone call had touched upon the Jewish Agency. Both sides had agreed that “contacts on this will continue along the responsible authorities of both countries,” he said.

Peskov rejected the claim that the dissolution of the Jewish Agency was intended to prevent a “brain drain” of talent from Russia.

A number of prominent Russian Jews have urged the remaining community in Russia to leave the country, among them the businessman Leonid Nevzlin, who now lives in Israel. “The Jews must flee from Russia as soon as possible,” Nevzlin declared at the end of July in a post on his Telegram channel. “And Israel should stop doubting and send weapons to Ukraine. Protecting democracy is our common cause.”

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