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Russia has ordered the agency in charge of organizing the emigration of Jews to Israel to halt activities immediately, the Israeli government said on Tuesday, though the group said it’s continuing to operate.
A Kremlin decision to shutter the activities of the Jewish Agency, which has operated in Russia and the Soviet Union since the late Communist era, would mark a dramatic worsening of ties between the two countries and could complicate Jews’ efforts to leave Russia. More than a million from the former Soviet Union have moved to Israel in the past two decades.
The agency, which is private but closely affiliated with the Israeli government, said it’s “continuing to operate as planned” in Russia and has no received “no such demand” from Russian authorities.
But a letter sent by the Israeli minister of immigration and absorption to interim Prime Minister Yair Lapid said that the agency had informed him of a directive issued by the Russian Justice Ministry halting its operations.
“Such a decision has dramatic and precedent-setting consequences for the possibility of Jews and those entitled under the Law of Return to exercise the right to immigrate to the State of Israel,” said the letter to Lapid seen by Bloomberg. “Mr. Prime Minister, I would like you to intervene urgently with the Russian government officials to continue the activities of the Jewish Agency in Russia so that the continued immigration from Russia will not be harmed.”
Israel’s Foreign Ministry said it is “studying the details of the affair, is in contact with the Jewish Agency headquarters in Jerusalem, and will act as necessary to assist the Jewish Agency.”
Russia’s Justice Ministry didn’t immediately respond to a request for comment. A spokeswoman for the Foreign Ministry called an earlier report of the order in the Jerusalem Post “a provocation,” but didn’t comment further.
Russian President Vladimir Putin’s relations with Israel have become increasingly strained since he invaded neighboring Ukraine in February, sparking global criticism and unprecedented US and European sanctions. The Jewish Agency has helped refugees from Ukraine resettle in Israel since the invasion.
In May, Putin stepped in to defuse a heated public disagreement over remarks made by Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov suggesting Adolf Hitler may have been Jewish.
Russia, which traditionally maintained close security cooperation with the Jewish state, has been stepping up criticism of Israel’s air strikes in Syria, a Russian ally.
The crisis with Russia confronting Lapid comes just a few days after he became acting prime minister after his predecessor Naftali Bennett resigned over the collapse of his shaky coalition. Parliamentary elections are scheduled to be held in November after the dissolution of parliament.
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