Photo Credit: Andrew Shiva / Wikipedia
Night view of the Kremlin Senate, the Kremlin's Senatskaya Tower, and Lenin's Mausoleum in Red Square on April 7, 2007

An Israeli legal team tasked with helping the Jewish Agency face a hearing in a Moscow court this Thursday has not left Israel, because Russia has not issued the necessary visas for the delegation to enter the country.

The Russian Justice Ministry did not reply to the Israeli request to meet with them, and short of an official approval for the meeting, the Russian embassy is unable to deliver visas, a Jerusalem source told


The delegation, led by Tamar Kaplan, is supposed to do its utmost to convince the Russian government to dial back its decision to shut down the Jewish Agency offices in the country in negotiations with high-ranking officials in Moscow.

But the trip has been put on hold, and may have to be canceled altogether, in light of Russia’s unwillingness to discuss the matter with the Israelis.

Even if Moscow relents and issues the visas, at this point it is not clear whether the delegation will arrive in time to help the Jewish Agency fight for survival at a hearing scheduled this Thursday in a Russian court.

The Jewish Agency is responsible for numerous Jewish community activities in the country, in addition to serving as the conduit through which the country’s Jews immigrate to Israel.

Russia’s decision to shut down the Agency is seen as a bad omen.

Rabbi Pinchas Goldschmidt, until recently chief rabbi of Moscow, told the Hebrew-language Ynet news outlet on Monday, “All in all, today we are in a situation where the Iron Curtain has again partially descended between Russia and the Western world.

“One of the signs of the Iron Curtain coming down is the outlawing of the activities of the Jewish Agency,” said the rabbi, who served in his position for the past 33 years. He was forced to leave Moscow, however, after refusing to express support for Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.

Now, he warns, Russian Jewry is facing a new and ominous challenge.

“Anyone with an open mind sees this as the beginning of a new era for Jews in Russia and for Russia,” said Goldschmidt, who continues to serve as president of the Conference of European Rabbis.

“There is concern in the Jewish community that the closure of the agency’s offices is not the last step. In general, they see it as worsening relations with Israel and with a serious fear of worsening relations between the government and the community,” he added.

“I worry about the fate of the Jewish community [in Russia], absolutely. We don’t live in a vacuum,” the rabbi said.

There is fear, in fact, that Russia may even go so far as to prevent Jews from immigrating to Israel, as happened during the era of the Soviet Union.

Speaking on condition of anonymity, a 33-year-old Jewish resident of St. Petersburg told Israel’s Channel N12, “Let’s talk about feelings, not facts. The feelings about the possibility of the return of the Iron Curtain, and the fear that we won’t be able to travel to Israel, are related not only to Israel but to the fact that the border will be closed.

“If the borders remain open, then we will be able to travel to Israel, perhaps with a little more difficulty, perhaps through another country. Maybe they won’t call it ‘aliya’ but rather, ‘evacuation’ and maybe we’ll travel without plans and without support – we’ll just arrive in Israel and they’ll send us to the hotel,” he theorized.

“In any case, most of the concerns are increasing, not because of the fear that the agency will be closed, but because the government will close the borders in general and will not allow the possibility of leaving.”

Political sources quoted by Ynet said that closure of the Jewish Agency offices in Russia will severely damage the fabric of social life in the country’s Jewish community. There is also deep concern that Russia will take additional measures against other Jewish organizations and could block the activities of the Nativ Liaison Office attached to Israel’s Prime Minister’s Office.

The main fear remains, however, that Russia will prevent its Jews from moving to Israel.

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Hana Levi Julian is a Middle East news analyst with a degree in Mass Communication and Journalism from Southern Connecticut State University. A past columnist with The Jewish Press and senior editor at Arutz 7, Ms. Julian has written for, and other media outlets, in addition to her years working in broadcast journalism.