Dozens of Israeli tourists and businesspeople were prevented from entering Russia Wednesday after flying into a Moscow airport, in what appeared to be a diplomatic tit-for-tat between Jerusalem and the Kremlin.
Israel’s Foreign Ministry said it was looking into reports that 46 people, including some young children, were detained for questioning at Domodedovo airport in the Russian capital.
According to Hebrew media reports, the passports of the Israelis were confiscated and no reason for their detention was given. Some passengers were interrogated in Russian with no translation offered, Channel 12 said.
The Foreign Ministry later issued a statement saying to the best of its knowledge only one Israeli was still detained at the airport, who was “expected to be released in the next hour.”
The incident comes after a group of eight businessmen were held in a Russian airport overnight and then deported back to Israel last week, according to an Israeli report.
The Foreign Ministry said it was working with Russian authorities to smooth travel for Israelis to the country.
Itamar Eichner, a reporter for the Yedioth Ahronoth daily, said he was allowed into Moscow after being detained at the airport for six hours, but “not before they took my fingerprints and pictures from every direction.”
“Unpleasant. Unfortunately there is still a handful of Israelis that remain there,” he wrote on Twitter.
The Russian Embassy in Israel declined to comment on the incident saying only that thousands of Russian tourists have been prevented from entering Israel since the beginning of the year.
The embassy said in a statement that every day around 20 tourists “who arrive in Israel with money and have organized tours are delayed and sent back to Russia.”
“According to data that the Russian embassy has, by December 1, 2019, 5771 Russian tourists were not permitted to enter Israel,” the embassy said. “In October alone 568 Russian tourists were not granted entry, in November 569.”
Israel’s Foreign Ministry said in a statement that “it is working so that tourists and Israeli businesspeople can continue to enter Russia, as it has been until now. This especially when it is clear that the two countries have a joint interest in encouraging mutual tourism and bilateral trade ties.”
An Israeli diplomatic official told Channel 12 that the detentions were not connected to the case of Naama Issachar, an Israeli-American backpacker who was arrested at a Moscow airport and later slapped with a seven-year-plus prison sentence for a drug offense.
The official said the detentions were more likely a form of Russian “revenge” over an increase in visitors from Russia being turned away from Israel.
Issachar was arrested in April after a small amount of marijuana was found in her luggage during a stopover in Moscow, while returning to Israel from India. She was sentenced in October to seven and a half years in prison, despite the fact that the offense generally carries only a fine or short jail term.
Some Israelis have alleged that the long sentence was politically motivated.
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has discussed the case with Russian President Vladimir Putin on at least two occasions. On Tuesday, he vowed he would secure her release.