As Moscow moves to shutter Jewish Agency, Israeli ambassador meets Russian deputy FM

With court case over Jewish Agency activity ongoing, officials from both countries meet in efforts to reach deal, with little progress reported

A sign outside the entrance of a Jewish Agency for Israel office in Moscow, Russia, July 27, 2022. (AP/Alexander Zemlianichenko)
A sign outside the entrance of a Jewish Agency for Israel office in Moscow, Russia, July 27, 2022. (AP/Alexander Zemlianichenko)

Israel’s Ambassador to Russia Alexander Ben Zvi met in Moscow with Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Mikhail Bogdanov, amid a deterioration in ties between the countries, due to a spat over the activities of the Jewish Agency.

The Foreign Ministry confirmed that the meeting between the two took place on Monday, but declined to elaborate further. Tensions have been high between Jerusalem and Moscow since Russia moved to shutter the Jewish Agency — the body that facilitates Jewish emigration to Israel, as well as some local Jewish activities — in the country, accusing it in court of illegally collecting information on Russian citizens.

The Russian Justice Ministry filed a motion last month seeking to close the Jewish Agency offices in the country, claiming the body had violated local laws. Israeli officials and analysts, however, believe Moscow is trying to send a threatening message to Jerusalem with its efforts against the quasi-governmental group.

The first court hearing in the case took place last week and ended without any significant developments. The next hearing is scheduled for August 19.

In the meantime, after repeated delays in receiving a visa, an Israeli legal team is on the ground in Russia to discuss the ongoing crisis with Russian officials and suggest solutions to resolve it.

The Walla news site reported on Monday that members of the team met with representatives of the Russian Justice Ministry to discuss the issue, but no real progress was made. Walla cited an unnamed source in the delegation saying that the team left the meeting with the impression that the situation would only be solved on the diplomatic level.

Israeli Ambassador to Russia Alexander Ben Zvi. (Foreign Ministry)

The Foreign Ministry declined to comment on the activities of the legal team in Russia.

Last week, Prime Minister Yair Lapid said that Moscow shuttering the Jewish Agency would be “a grave event, which will have consequences” on Russian-Israeli ties.

Immigration Minister Pnina Tamano-Shata said last week that Israel was prepared to make “adjustments” to keep the Jewish Agency open in Russia.

President Isaac Herzog, meanwhile, suggested last week that the issue is better dealt with quietly and behind the scenes: “I believe that the less we speak about it, the better we’ll be. It will allow proper treatment of the issue.”

Judah Ari Gross contributed to this report.

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