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August 19, 2022 9:49 am

Russian Court Announces One Month Postponement of Legal Hearing into Closure of Jewish Agency Operations

avatar by Algemeiner Staff

The entrance to the offices of the Jewish Agency in Moscow. Photo: Reuters/Evgenia Novozhenina

A Moscow court hearing initiated by the Russian Ministry of Justice in a bid to close down the local operations of the Jewish Agency has been postponed for a month.

The delay was announced on Friday by the Basmanny District Court in the Russian capital following a petition submitted by lawyers for the Agency, which assists Jews wishing to emigrate to Israel. Russia’s invasion of Ukraine at the end of February triggered a mass exodus of Jews from Russia, Belarus and Ukraine.

According to Israeli government figures, 20,246 Russians emigrated to Israel between January and July 2022, with numbers spiking from around 700 per month in February to over 3,000 in March. By contrast, in the whole of 2019, 15,930 Russians emigrated to Israel.

An additional 35,000 Russian Jews are understood to have filed immigration applications and are currently waiting for the next steps.

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The court agreed to a one-month postponement after rejecting the initial petition submitted by the Jewish Agency, which requested that the court hearing be replaced by a “two-month conciliation procedure” — a proposal summarily opposed by the Russian government representatives. The judge agreed to a 30 day delay, during which time the Agency will have the opportunity to “form a position on new written evidence and try to eliminate the identified violations,” the Russian news outlet Kommersant reported.

“We are studying new documents attached to the case. We hope that the organization will continue to work in Russia,” Andrey Grishaev, a lawyer for the Agency, told reporters outside the court building.

The Ministry of Justice announced its legal bid shutter the Jewish Agency’s operations in Russia at the end of July. The ministry claims that the Agency violated Russian law by allegedly maintaining a database of Russian citizens planning to make Aliyah.

Russia’s formal position is that the case against the Jewish Agency is based solely on legal, rather than political, considerations.

“The situation should not be politicized or projected onto the entirety of Russian-Israeli relations,” Dmitry Peskov — spokesperson for Russian President Vladimir Putin — explained last month.

“There are issues from the point of view of complying with Russian law,” he said, adding: “This situation should be treated very carefully.”

Separately, Putin himself is reported to have told Israeli President Isaac Herzog that the case against the Jewish Agency was a purely legal matter during a recent telephone call.

However, Ukrainian and Israeli officials believe that the threat of closure faced by the Jewish Agency has been exacerbated by Israeli diplomatic and humanitarian support for Ukraine. Last week, Natan Sharansky — the former Soviet Jewish dissident who later served as head of the Jewish Agency  — told Voice of America’s Russian-language service that Russia was examining ways to pressure its adversaries.

“They are trying to put pressure on different countries. They are scaring Germany with the fact that people will start dying from the cold in winter,” Sharansky said, referring to the international sanctions on Russia’s energy sector, which supplies Germany with 55 percent of its natural gas.

“In the same way, they are starting to put pressure on us, using the Jewish Agency,” continued Sharansky, who served at the agency’s helm from 2009-18.

The Basmanny District Court, where the case will be heard, has a reputation among Russian dissidents for politically biased judgements. Mikhail Khordokovsky — once the wealthiest businessman in Russia who was jailed following a flawed trial in 2005 — coined the term “Basmanny justice” to describe “the complete subjugation of the judiciary to the will of the regime” in Russia.

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