Russia’s ongoing war against Ukraine is putting pressure on Israel, a reality that could possibly stop Russian Jews from coming to Israel. In a Moscow court, Russia’s justice ministry moved to ban operations of the Jewish Agency, which is responsible for worldwide immigration to Israel. While foreign organizations have faced increasing pressure in Russia for years, threats recently ramped up. “For the last eight years since Russia started its war against Ukraine, when they occupied Crimea, they were demanding that they stop collecting information about citizens of Russia and transferring it to the West. But, of course, for Jewish Agency this is a ridiculous demand because that’s exactly what the Jewish Agency is doing,” says Former Jewish Agency Chairman Natan Sharansky.
“We should not be desperate. At the same time, I’m warning all our friends in Russia and Ukraine that those who are seriously thinking about Aliyah immigrating to Israel should better do it as quickly as possible because situations are worsening very quickly,” he says. Nearly 20,000 Russian Jews have immigrated to Israel since the invasion started along, with some 16,000 Ukrainian Jews. “And there are another 80,000 in the pipeline. My estimation is that approximately three times more Jews will come from Russia than from Ukraine,” says Sharansky. In Russia, he says, citizens are losing freedoms at such a rate, that it’s a reminder of Communist Soviet rule. “I was sentenced for high treason, which is exactly what the Jewish Agency is accused of now. The only freedom which is still left is freedom of immigration, and who knows how long it’ll exist. That’s why Jews who are concerned are in a hurry to leave,” says Sharansky.
Pinchas Goldschmidt, who served as chief rabbi of Moscow, couldn’t return from a trip because he didn’t support the war in Ukraine. Now he’s in exile. “These are complicated times and there are many dark clouds on the horizon,” says Rabbi Goldschmidt. “This has been reflected in a great exodus from members of the Jewish community who have left Russia since the beginning of the war.” A woman we will refer to as “Svetlana” and her husband made Aliyah from Russia two months ago. We’ve hidden her identity to protect her family in Russia. “We’re very happy that we made this decision…The political tension is rising and the activity of Jewish Agency is apparently being questioned at the moment by Russian authorities. Not a lot of people can actually leave,” says Svetlana. Rabbi Goldschmidt says tens of thousands more Jews in Moscow with Israeli citizenship simply left. He expects the trend to continue.
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