by Mordechai Tzivin
Do we really need the Agency in Russia, when Jewish life in Russia is not bad at all as described in the west? On the contrary
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For many days now, everyone has been talking anxiously and even angrily about the relationship between the Russian government and the Jewish Agency, and no one finds the courage to raise the question: Is it indeed so? 0 Is the damage and threat to Russian Jewry and Jewry in general so great if the activity of the Jewish Agency in Russia is stopped
The answer is of course: no and no. Not only will no harm be done to the Jewish cause in general and to Russian Jewry in particular from the cessation of this activity, it is even possible that the bitter will turn out to be essentially sweet and so happened that it has rolled the developments in favor of the Jewish people
Let’s start with Russian Jewry itself. It is a clear fact that Jewish life today in Russia is better than in certain Western countries, France for example.
Antisemitism is not on the Russian agenda, thank God. A Jew wearing a Talit and a black hat, walking with his children who have a prominent Jewish appearance in Tverskaya, the central avenue of Moscow, is a striking and heartwarming sight, and every third person will light up his face and greet him with a smile. The well-being of the Jewish individual in Russia is one of the most famous. In addition to Jewish freedom and Jewish pride, the Jewish citizens enjoy the extensive value load provided by Russian education: the attitude to books, culture and to parents, values that have been deeply corrupted in the western democratic world, this is compared to values that are too liberal and inappropriate in my opinion in the western world, which have not yet penetrated Russian culture
From here to the immigration issue: despite the indisputable fact that the agency maintains activities in Russia that strengthen Jewish communal life, most Jewish organizations in Russia will not shed a tear, to say the least, over the possibility that the agency’s activity in Russia will be stopped in regards to encouraging it, this is due to the fact that the agency encourages immigration to Israel of Russian citizens who have no connection to Judaism and who are not Jewish in any way, but are entitled to the Law of Return (mainly through the extension known as the “grandchild law”). As a result of the agency’s activity, the proportion of Jews among the immigrants is decreasing, and in fact, a path for massive immigration of non-Jews to Israel is created here. (Perhaps the agency believes that in doing so it is continuing the path of the majority of the Zionist leadership in the early days of the state, which saw quantity as equivalent to quality, but then it was about the quantity of Jews, not of those who are not like that…)
If the massive immigration of Jews to Israel is the agency’s first priority, why is this not emphasized in its activities in the US, for example? The State of Israel would be happy to receive an influx of Jews from all streams in the US, conservative, reform, reconstruction, and others. Unfortunately, apart from religious Jews immigrating to Israel, there are no others.
It is not unreasonable to think that the encouragement of mass immigration, most of them, is one of the triggers for the Russians to threaten the termination of the agency’s activities. The Russian authorities view with a negative eye the encouragement of mass immigration as the agency is doing, mainly due to the brain drain which, for them, the Russian investment in education and Jews in the combination of the Jewish genius – succeeded in producing.
No one may have thought about it, but the immigration of non-Jews to Israel is not only not good for Russia as a country, but it is not good for the immigrant himself and the State of Israel. The agency apparently does not tell a non-Jewish immigrant that he may encounter difficulties at important junctions during his life in Israel
He and his children will have difficulty marrying in the country, they will have to do so abroad, they will not be buried in a Jewish cemetery, even if they die as soldiers….and in general, even though Israeli society is liberal by nature, a non-Jewish immigrant still does not always have a feeling of equality and belonging, among other reasons, the majority of the public in Israel, whether religious or non-religious, opposes mixed marriages
And what about Israel, although yes, on the one hand, Israel is benefiting from this increase, usually educated and productive, on the other hand, honestly, will it be possible to trust in critical times of a national crisis a public that goes to church every Sunday, celebrates the Christian holidays with piety and Israel for him, an attempt to raise the standard of living.
There is no intention here to claim that the non-Jewish immigrants are in danger of a “Fifth recruit” no and no.
On purpose, the things were written in an inclusive and radical way, something. There is room for serious thought here: in my humble opinion
Another reason why the Jewish organizations in Russia will not particularly regret the narrowing of the agency’s steps in Russia is that those organizations believe that the main emphasis should be placed on Jewish education for young Jews so that when they immigrate to Israel they will have a solid Jewish identity. According to those organizations, encouraging the growth of young children who have not yet received a Jewish education means that there is no chance that the child will grow up in Israel with a rooted Jewish identity. From eating falafel, and wiping hummus, and even serving in the Israeli Defense Army, one does not get a Jewish identity. Israeli – definitely. But of course, this is not enough. On the other hand, an adolescent Jewish youth, who receives a basic Jewish education in Russia, will remain so for the rest of his life, and the liberal and secular atmosphere in the country will not succeed in undermining his Jewish identity, even if he lives a non-religious lifestyle
The closure of the Jewish agency by the Russians is not good for the Russians because it is accepted in the world as an anti-Semitic act, while in Russia there is no formal anti-Semitism at all, and almost no individual anti-Semitism. Certainly, much less than the West
And we haven’t even spoken a word about the question of whether there is a connection between the excess of publicized activity and the anti-Semitic awakening. Not intentionally (as there were those who in the past accused activists to encourage the aliyah of creating anti-Semitic provocations for the needs of aliyah. Needless to mention) but indirectly and by mistake.
Anti-Semitism created by Jews, deliberately in order to achieve a certain goal, recalls a wonderful article by Berel Katznelson
…”indeed, Russia in 1881, during the days of turmoil, sons, and daughters of the people of Israel sat down and secretly printed, out of devotion, proclamations calling for pogroms in the hope that the Jewish blood that was spilled would help the Peasants’ Uprising …”
It is possible that the struggle of the Agency to continue its activities in Russia awakens dormant anti-Semitic cells. Something that could harm the Jewish communities whose situation is currently flourishing and whose rabbis and leaders are Russia’s best ambassadors and PRs in the world.
Considering all of this, the question must arise: who says that the Agency in Russia is even necessary
Giora Eiland, Major General (Res.) and former chairman of the National Security Council, claims that there is actually no need for the Jewish Agency, and he is not the only one. Under the headline “The Jewish Agency in Russia is not a national interest” he published an essay on YNET on 26/07/2022, claims among others that “Well, having an activity of the Jewish Agency in Russia is not, in my opinion, a national interest, and certainly not an interest of high importance. Unlike in the past, it is possible to maintain contact and dialogue with Jewish communities with the help of the embassy in Moscow, the diaspora and immigration ministries, and help Jews who want to immigrate to Israel in many other ways”. So, Immigration matters can continue to be dealt with by the Embassy of Israel in Russia.
But with Jews, mainly Americans, as with Jews, organizations are for the sake of organizations, and not always as a means (a meeting for the meeting). They are mainly used for raising funds, dinners, dignitaries jobs, and a social club.
It is difficult to contradict the hypothesis that the Jewish American leader of the Agency’s executives, who have the money and the opinion, are the ones who want the agency to fight the Russians in court or in some other open and active way. The struggle for them is a tool in the hands of American international policy against Russia. It is possible that the global Jewish interest and the interest of Russian Jewry are not exactly part of the matter at all.
The political point of view
Israelis find the ongoing saga pertaining to the fate of the Jewish Agency presence in Russia bewildering. It could be said that no one comprehends the true reasons behind this puzzling interaction.
Should anyone be curious enough to delve into the intricacies of the legal status of this organization, they might be better off paying attention to its past experiences instead. It is there that we may learn some ingenious ways of settling minor mishaps. Let us recall, that it was already during President Yeltsin’s times when Yevgeny Primakov (known for his uncompromising opinions on all things Jewish) became the head of the government, an order was issued, demanding for the Jewish Agency to terminate its activity. Yet, within a very short time, all the issues had been settled successfully by means of effective diplomacy. All legal aspects of the Agency’s operations had been settled to match the laws and regulations in Russia.
As a consequence of the ongoing war in Ukraine, Russia had found itself in quite an isolated position. Out of all the major players in the international arena, Israel is the only one not taking part in the sanctions and not providing Ukraine with weapons. Even such giants as India and China did not manage to remain fully neutral in their economic policies, and both are involved in the sanctions, if only partially. Turkey, while remaining neutral in all aspects of its economic policy, continues to supply Ukraine with combat drones, which are known for inflicting heavy damage in military operations.
Israel had successfully asserted its independence in its relationship with Russia, despite unprecedented pressure on the part of its American allies.
Some Israeli experts make a connection between the Russian Ministry of Justice’s actions against the Jewish Agency and Yair Lapid acting as a temporary Prime Minister in Israel for the next four months, as he has been known for his critical comments about the Russian Government. His predecessor, Naftali Bennet, adhered to the policy of avoiding such statements, and so did Benjamin Netanyahu during his terms as PM. Yet, the upcoming election on November 1st in Israel, where Netanyahu is confidently leading in the race for the Prime Minister’s chair, according to the polls. It would be quite wise to postpone any discussions of the Jewish Agency’s future on Russian soil until the new government is sworn in in Israel. Then the leaders of the two countries would surely be able to find a solution that is suitable for everybody involved.
It must be noted that the cessation of operations of the Jewish Agency in Russia is far from being a formative factor for Israel. On the contrary – one may ponder whether the Agency is at all effective at what it is deemed to achieve. However, one-sided actions would create a deep disappointment, just as would happen if Israel would outlaw the activity of ex-pat Russian organizations on its territory. Such a move would be perversely interpreted by those countries that seek a continued partner relationship with the Russian Federation. If such a friendly country as Israel receives such treatment, then what could the others expect?
Let us hope that the current crisis will be promptly forgotten as a temporary misunderstanding. This would be easier to achieve should the matter be postponed until the new government is elected in Israel.
It has to be said, despite all the criticism and arguments for and against, the activity of the Jewish Agency in Russia is probably unnecessary, but after all, the agency must remain in Russia doing important work, education, financial aid to Jews and various social programs. But not to deal with Aliya.
The writer, Adv. Mordechai Tzivin is familiar with Jewish life in Russia. He is an expert in international law. Among his clients, many are from Arab enemy countries clients.