Moscow court sets date for controversial trial of the Jewish Agency, which helps Jews move to Israel from Russia. Report from James Kilner.
Moscow’s former chief rabbi has warned that “dark clouds” are gathering for Jews living in Russia, with thousands fleeing every month and a court pushing ahead with the controversial trial of a Jewish repatriation organisation.
This week, a Moscow court set a date of August 19 for the trial of the Jewish Agency, which helps Jews move to Israel from Russia and has been operating in the Soviet Union and then Russia since 1989.
The Russian government has accused the Jewish Agency of storing information on Russian citizens illegally on servers based outside Russia, a technical charge that has been described by some as “political”.
“The situation is worrying … with many dark clouds on the horizon,” Rabbi Pinchas Goldschmidt told AFP this week from Israel, where he fled in March after opposing the Kremlin’s war in Ukraine.
He said Jews in Russia were worried about worsening civil rights and being trapped on the wrong side of a new Iron Curtain and that an estimated 30,000 had fled from Russia to Israel since the start of the war.
Other prominent Jewish academics have backed up this emigration figure.
Colin Shindler, professor of Israeli Studies at London University’s School of Oriental and African Studies, estimated that up to 4,000 Jews were now leaving Russia every month compared to around 700 people before the start of the war.
“This far outstrips the number of Ukrainian Jews who have travelled to Israel,” he said.
Poorly perceived plan to stem emigration?
Analysts have said that the timing of the prosecution of the Jewish Agency suggests that it may be a poorly conceived plan to try to stem emigration or is perhaps being used as a way to pressure the Israeli government, despite it having largely steered clear of criticising Russia’s actions in Ukraine.
Either way, Rabbi Goldschmidt said that the trial was stoking anti-Semitic feelings.
“If Russia wants to stop the brain drain of its best scientists and creative class, the best way to do this is not by closing the Jewish Agency, but by stopping this war,” he said.
Roughly one million of Israel’s 9.3 million population can trace their ancestry back to the former Soviet Union. Rabbi Goldschmidt said Jews in Russia felt unable to speak freely any more.
“The Jewish community was pressured … to openly support the war. Our community did not support the war,” he said.
“If I had stayed the chief rabbi of Moscow, I wouldn’t have been able to speak out openly without endangering my community.”
The Kremlin’s war in Ukraine has strained traditionally close ties with Israel.
Right-wing former Israeli premier Naftali Bennett withheld criticism of Russian President Vladimir Putin and stressed the need for close ties with Moscow.
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The Star of David sits atop the Moscow choral synagogue in Moscow. Jewish people in Russia are worried about worsening civil rights Credit: Kirill Kudryavtsev/AFP