Russia and Israel argue over proposed ban on Jewish organization

An Israeli delegation flew to Moscow today to discuss the proposed ban on a Jewish organization with ties to the Israeli government. The Jewish Agency helps many Jews worldwide with their immigration to Israel. Over the years, hundreds of thousands of Jews from the Soviet Union, and then Russia and other former Soviet states, have moved to Israel with the help of the agency.

According to Russia, the organization is breaking the law by collecting personal data from Russians and passing it on to the Israeli government. Israel says that there is simply a question of openly recording personal data of Jews who want to emigrate. Tomorrow morning Russian time, the judge will consider the case.

In the background, several things seem to play a role in the Kremlin‘s intention. In recent years, the country has seen a structural restriction of freedoms of Russian activists, media and opposition, but also of foreign NGOs and human rights organizations active in the country. They have to deal with all kinds of strict rules or are banned.

Increased migration to Israel

In addition, tensions between Russia and Israel have been rising sharply since the war in Ukraine, although ties have traditionally been good. There are 1.3 million Jews from Russia and former Soviet states living in Israel, making up about 15 percent of the population. Israel also wants to keep ties with Russia warm because of the situation in neighbouring Syria. Operations to bomb Iran-affiliated militias in Syria by Israel are coordinated with Russia, which controls Syria’s airspace.

Israel, unlike the West, has not imposed sanctions against Russia, but has spoken out against the war and Russian war crimes, and sent civil aid to Ukraine. The migration of Russian Jews to Israel has also taken off since the war.

Around 20,000 Russians have officially left for Israel since the end of February and 37,000 Russians are staying there on a tourist visa to await the outcome of the war, or with a view to a permanent stay. Many of them are well educated, and a number of wealthy Russian Jews have also left.

Among the migrants is also the Chief Rabbi of Moscow, Pinchas Goldschmidt, who refused to express his support for the war in Ukraine. Goldschmidt and his family speak of an exile. Some 16,000 Ukrainian Jews also fled to Israel.

โ€œDifferent from closing McDonald‘sโ€

Ties were also dented in May when Russian Foreign Minister Lavrov echoed a far-right conspiracy theory by claiming that Adolf Hitler had Jewish blood and Jews themselves are the biggest anti-Semites. Russian President Putin later apologized for that.

There were no concrete consequences for the relationship between Israel and Russia at that time. However, should Russia continue the ban on the Jewish Agency, Israel will take retaliatory measures. โ€œWe will not accept this quietly, this is not like closing McDonald’s,โ€ an Israeli official told Yedioth Ahronoth newspaper. Yair Lapid, the outgoing Prime Minister of Israel, calls for โ€œserious consequences for our bilateral relationshipโ€. Yesterday, Israel announced that it would expand humanitarian aid for Ukraine.

Russia, meanwhile, says that there is only a legal issue. Kremlin spokesman Peskov: โ€œThe situation should not be made political or projected onto the whole of Russian-Israeli relations.โ€