(Sergei Savostyanov, Sputnik, Kremlin Pool Photo via AP; Yonatan Sindel/Flash90; Shutterstock)
Vladimir Putin, Isaac Herzog

The Agency will be forced to digitally promote and facilitate aliyah.

By Pesach Benson, United with Israel

The Jewish Agency is bracing for the likelihood that it will have to shut down its physical presence in Russia, the Jerusalem Post reported on Wednesday.

The Jewish Agency, a quasi-governmental organization that facilitates aliyah, faces a ban on its activities in Russia, with Moscow claiming it violated Russian privacy laws. Israeli officials believe the crackdown is political, in response to Israeli support for Ukraine.

“The Jewish Agency will operate all of its work on aliyah from Israel, online or by phone,” a source told the Post. “The problem is that there will be no way to encourage aliyah from Russia.”

The source added, “They won’t operate any physical activities in Russia after their ‘exodus’ from Russia, but will fund local activities or send temporary educators from Israel to assist with Jewish life.”

Some have warned that the Kremlin may eventually go further and prohibit Jews from leaving Russia.

The Agency was ordered to cease its activities pending a trial scheduled to begin on August 19. In addition to facilitating aliyah, the Agency also supports youth activities, Sunday schools, summer camps and cultural programs.

In an effort to defuse tensions, Israeli President Isaac Herzog discussed the situation by phone with Russian President Vladimir Putin on Tuesday.

Herzog’s office said, “The presidents discussed Israeli-Russian bilateral relations, including the challenges of the Jewish people in the Diaspora. In this context, President Herzog elaborated on the issue of the activities of the Jewish Agency in Russia.”

A delegation of Israeli officials recently visited Moscow, but meetings with Russian officials reached a dead end.

Foreign Agents?

Further complicating matters, Russia recently broadened its definition of “foreign agents.”

According to a Moscow Times report cited by the Post, the definition now includes “those who take part in any activity that authorities determine goes against Russia’s national interests or who receive support of any kind, not just money, from abroad.”

As a result, representatives of Jewish organizations such as the Jewish Agency can now be categorized by Moscow as “foreign agents.”

The Post reported that contracts for the Agency’s 200 workers and three full-time shluchim (emissaries) expired during the summer and there are currently no plans for them to return to Russia.

Around 150,000 Jews live in Russia. Since Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, an estimated 30,000 have already made aliyah, though many began their paperwork prior to the war.

Prime Minister Yair Lapid has warned that closing down the Jewish Agency would be “a grave event, which will have consequences” for Russian-Israeli ties.

The Jewish Agency was created in 1929 to encourage Jewish immigration to the Holy Land and today operates in more than 65 countries. The Agency received permission to work in the Soviet Union in 1989 before the Communist regime collapsed.

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