Russian President Vladimir Putin and Israeli Prime Minister Naftali Bennett in Sochi, Russia, 22 October 2021. (Photo credit: Evgeny Biyatov, Sputnik, Kremlin Pool Photo via AP)
The Russian Ministry of Justice has ordered the dissolution of the Russian branch of the Jewish Agency for Israel, according to Russian media reports on 21 July.
The order came after a lawsuit was made against the Jewish Agency branch in Moscow’s Basmanny District Court. According to the reports, violations of Russian law by the Jewish Agency have not yet been publicly specified.
The ministry filed the case on 15 July and another hearing has been set for 28 July.
The Jewish Agency for Israel is an international organization that operates as a non-profit in order to promote Jewish immigration to Israel.
In a meeting with the Israeli ambassador to Russia, the Russian deputy foreign minister stated that the legal proceedings against the Jewish Agency are not politically motivated.
Nonetheless, Israeli media reported that this move may potentially be “political punishment” for positions taken by Tel Aviv in support of Ukraine, specifically in relation to statements of public officials or indirect military support for the Ukrainian army.
While Israel has not directly supported the Ukrainian army with weapons, the Ukrainian ambassador to Israel confirmed the presence of Israeli citizens among the foreign legion of the Ukrainian armed forces.
Russia has criticized the presence of Israelis among the Ukrainian army and expressed its concerns over Israelis fighting alongside neo-Nazi Ukrainian battalions.
Current Israeli interim Prime Minister Yair Lapid has, in turn, also criticized the Russian war in Ukraine and accused Moscow of alleged war crimes.
The Israeli Ambassador to Russia, Alex Ben Zvi, was summoned by the Russian foreign ministry on 18 April to answer questions about “anti-Russia remarks” made by Lapid.
Moscow fired back by stating that Israel’s focus on the Ukrainian conflict was made to distract the world from the crisis in Palestine.
“There was a poorly camouflaged attempt to take advantage of the situation in Ukraine to distract the international community’s attention from one of the oldest unsettled conflicts – the Palestinian-Israeli one,” the Russian foreign ministry stated, according to the Russian news agency, TASS.
Israeli interim PM Lapid said he would send a delegation of ministerial representatives as well as some Israeli ministers to Russia in order to prevent the closure of the Jewish Agency and to cool down diplomatic tensions.
“The Jewish community in Russia is deeply connected with Israel,” Lapid said in a statement. “Its importance arises in every diplomatic discussion with the Russian leadership. We will continue to act through diplomatic channels so that the important activity of the Jewish Agency does not cease.”
The Russian ambassador to Israel, Anatoly Viktorov, said on 21 April that his country would consider retaliatory measures against Tel Aviv if reports of Israeli military aid to Ukraine are confirmed.
Additionally, Tel Aviv has been working with Turkey on a potential Turkey-Israel gas route that would directly compete with Russian exports to Europe.
For the second time this year, Syrian and Russian air force jets conducted joint patrols along the Syrian borders on 7 June, most notably, along the Israeli-occupied Golan Heights.
Moscow has recently started to issue harsher condemnations of Israel’s aerial aggressions on Syria, including the attack on 10 June, which crippled Damascus International Airport for several weeks.