LONDON (Reuters) -Russia’s Ministry of Justice has requested the liquidation of the Russian branch of the Jewish Agency, a non-profit organisation that promotes immigration to Israel, according to a Moscow court.
The website of the Basmanny district court said the ministry filed the request on July 15 and it would be discussed on July 28. No reason for launching the case was given.
The move against the Jerusalem-based agency, the largest Jewish non-profit organisation in the world, follows criticism by Israel of Russia’s war in Ukraine, where Israeli Foreign Minister Yair Lapid accused it in April of carrying out war crimes.
Moscow has repeatedly denied atrocities and said it does not target civilians, although thousands have been killed in nearly five months of war.
Lapid, who has also become Israel’s caretaker prime minister since criticising Russia, said a delegation with representatives from the prime minister’s office and several ministries would visit Russia next week.
“The Jewish community in Russia is deeply connected with Israel,” he 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 Jewish Agency’s important activity will not cease.”
In response to news of the court filing, Israeli Diaspora Affairs Minister Nachman Shai said earlier: “Russian Jews will not be held hostage by the war in Ukraine. The attempt to punish the Jewish Agency for Israel’s stance on the war is deplorable and offensive.”
The Jerusalem Post reported on July 5 that Russian authorities suspected the Jewish Agency of illegally gathering data on Russian citizens, while also linking the move to tensions between Israel and Russia over Ukraine and Syria.
Around 7,000 Jews emigrated from Russia to Israel last year, according to Israeli government data. Around 16,000 immigrants have arrived from Russia since the start of the war, a Jewish Agency spokesperson said.
Although Israel has not sent military aid to Ukraine, it has condemned Russia’s invasion of its neighbour. Traditionally strong relations with Moscow deteriorated in May after Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said that Hitler had Jewish ancestry, prompting anger in Israel.
(Reporting by Reuters in London and by Dan Williams, Steven Scheer and Henriette Chacar in Jerusalem; Editing by Mark Trevelyan, Nick Macfie and Alison Williams)