By Amit Acco, Partner

In a provocative move Russia’s Ministry of Justice has requested the Jewish Agency Branch in Russia. The Jewish Agency is the largest Jewish non-profit organization in the world, is tasked with overseeing and encouraging immigration to Israel.

Russia accused the agency of illegally collects, stores and transfers data about Russian citizens in violation of the law.

People looking to immigrate to Israel must submit applications through the Jewish Agency. The agency in its process of granting immigration papers to Jews requesting to leave Russia for Israel, investigates their claims and background.

In recent weeks, Russia expanded its definition of a ‘foreign agent’ to include anyone who receives support from abroad and acts in ways that go against Russia’s national interests.

In the first half of 2022, at least 16,598 people made aliyah from Russia — more than double the 7,711 came on 2021 mainly due to the war against Ukraine and the fear of the iron curtain to go down, as in the communist time.

In a rapid response, Israel’s Aliyah and Integration Minister Pnina Tamano-Shata said that:

“The immigration of Jews to Israel is a basic right that every Jew in the world has. The Jewish Agency’s activities take place all over Europe and the rest of the continents, as well as in Russia. There are diplomatic efforts being taken to clarify the issue and regulate the activities”.

The possible closure of the Jewish Agency’s local offices means that Russians will no longer be able to apply for citizenship in Israel from Russia. It also means that the efforts to promote emigration to Israel and community-building activities offered by the Jewish Agency in Russia will be curtailed. Social activists in Israel, had urged the agency to expedite immigration requests fearing the Russians will block Jews from immigrating. These activists have been warning in the last few months about the fact that they feel the “Iron Curtain” setting again in Russia.

Roman Bronfman, a former lawmaker from Israel who has written a book about aliyah from the former Soviet Union, said

“Advice for my friends: Leave Russia as soon as possible if you’re planning to.”