Herzog calls Putin in effort to convince him to halt looming Jewish Agency closure

Russian strongman says talks on the matter will continue; president’s office says the two stressed ‘important areas of cooperation’ between Jerusalem and Moscow

Judah Ari Gross is The Times of Israel's religions and Diaspora affairs correspondent.

President Isaac Herzog (left) and Russian President Vladimir Putin. (Collage/AP)
President Isaac Herzog (left) and Russian President Vladimir Putin. (Collage/AP)

President Isaac Herzog called Russian leader Vladimir Putin on Tuesday as part of Israel’s ongoing efforts to prevent Moscow from closing down the operations of the Jewish Agency in Russia, his 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,” Herzog’s office said.

Last month, Russian authorities petitioned a Moscow district court to halt the activities of the Jewish Agency in Russia, claiming the organization, which facilitates and encourages Jewish immigration to Israel, had violated local laws, namely illegally collecting information on Russian citizens. The next hearing in the case is set to take place on August 19.

Though Russian authorities insist that their efforts to shutter the Jewish Agency, a quasi-official organization closely connected to the Israeli government, are purely a legal matter, many in Israel see the move as a diplomatic tactic aimed at putting pressure on Jerusalem.

Ahead of the next court hearing, Israeli officials have been working to negotiate a compromise with Moscow, even offering to make “adjustments” to the organization’s activities, to keep the Jewish Agency’s offices in Russia open.

Herzog’s office said he had initiated the call “at the request of Prime Minister Yair Lapid and in coordination with the Ministry of Foreign Affairs.”

According to the Kremlin, Putin and Herzog “agreed that contacts on this matter will be continued through the relevant departments of both countries.”

Herzog’s office refused to comment on the matter.

“The phone call was frank and honest. The two presidents emphasized the important areas of cooperation between Israel and Russia and agreed to remain in contact,” Herzog’s office said.

“President Putin underscored his personal commitment to Holocaust commemoration and the fight against antisemitism,” according to the Israeli readout.

Last week, Israel’s Ambassador to Russia Alexander Ben Zvi met in Moscow with Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Mikhail Bogdanov to discuss the Jewish Agency’s future in Russia.

Lapid has warned that Moscow shuttering the Jewish Agency would be “a grave event, which will have consequences” for Russian-Israeli ties.

Herzog, for his part, has suggested 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.”

Lapid has frequently used Herzog, who occupies a largely symbolic position, for sensitive diplomatic tasks, including helping Israel reset its long-strained ties with Turkey.

Moscow’s reasons for attacking the quasi-governmental organization remain unclear, as Russian officials have yet to indicate what — if any — steps Israel could take that would prompt them to call off its threats to shutter the group, which is tasked with facilitating and encouraging Jewish immigration to Israel.

Many see the tensions as a result of Israel’s increased support for Ukraine in its conflict with Russia.

Jerusalem has avoided providing direct military aid to Kyiv — including offensive arms or advanced defensive technology — since Russian troops invaded Ukraine on February 24, in an attempt to avoid sparking a crisis with Moscow.

But Israel has found itself at odds with Russia as it has increasingly supported Ukraine while seeking to maintain freedom of movement in Syria’s skies, which are largely controlled by Moscow.

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