Russia slams Israel’s ‘biased’ rhetoric on Ukraine in bid to shut down Jewish Agency

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Russia has accused Israel of being “unconstructive” amid a growing row over a proposal to Moscow to shut down the Jewish Agency and seize its assets.

Maria Zakharova, spokeswoman for the Russian Foreign Ministry, said on Tuesday that relations had deteriorated between the two countries since the outbreak of war in Ukraine, fueled by what she called “biased rhetoric” from ‘Israel.

Israeli officials have expressed anger after a court was asked last week to consider liquidating the Russian assets of the Jewish Agency, which organizes Jewish immigration to Israel.

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Prime Minister Yair Lapid warned that a shutdown would be a serious event with repercussions for relations between the two countries, while former Jewish Agency chairman Natan Sharansky – himself a migrant from Soviet Russia – l called it an attempt to sow discord in the West.

But Zakharova said Russian-Israeli relations had declined since the war in Ukraine began in late February.

“Unfortunately, we have heard completely unconstructive and, above all, biased rhetoric in statements made by Tel Aviv in recent months,” she told broadcaster Soloviev Live TV, according to the Tass news agency.

The entrance to a Russian branch of the Jewish Agency for Israel, in Moscow (Photo: Reuters/Evgenia Novozhenina)

“When the Israeli leadership expressed anti-Russian assessments at different levels – and that is exactly what they did – and adopted a pro-Ukrainian position, which was in fact to support the Kyiv regime rather than the Ukrainian people, it was totally consistent with what the West keeps saying in a weird and slightly bizarre way, and it raised questions.

A growing number of migrants from Russia have made aliyah since the start of the war.

Jewish Agency figures show 17,000 Russians have taken Israeli citizenship since February and up to 40,000 more are expected to follow.

That compares to just 7,700 Russian Jews who made aliyah in 2021.

“I think we have to say very clearly that it is in Russia’s interest for the Jewish Agency to continue to operate,” Sharansky said in an interview with Israeli television channel i24News.

“It’s one of the very few international organizations still open in Russia, which gives them contact with the whole Jewish world.”

But he added that Israel should not be blackmailed because Russia is “absolutely isolated after its barbaric attack on Ukraine” and the authorities are “seeking ways to break up Western unity”.

The Russian Justice Ministry asked a local court last week to liquidate the assets of the Jewish Agency, arguing that its activities violated Russian law.

A Jewish Agency official said officials accused it of violating privacy laws by collecting the personal information of people seeking to move to Israel.

But Dmitry Peskov, a Kremlin spokesman, sought to downplay the row, saying there was “no need to politicize this situation and project it onto the whole of Russian-Israeli relations”.

“It is necessary to take a cautious approach here, but also to realize that all organizations must comply with Russian law,” he added.

Lapid said last week: “The Jewish community in Russia has deep ties to Israel. Its importance emerges from every diplomatic discussion with Russian leaders.

“We will continue to act through diplomatic channels so that the important activity of the Jewish Agency does not cease.”

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