Russia Allows Jewish Agency to Operate for Unlimited Time

Russia’s Justice Ministry has granted the Jewish Agency for Israel an official permit to operate throughout Russia for an unlimited time.

The permit, granted Oct. 17, brought to an end a six-month tense dispute between the agency and Russian authorities about the agency’s ability to operate in Russia.

The successful resolution was “beyond our expectations,” agency Chairman Avraham Burg said last week at a news conference here.

Approval was granted for the agency’s operations in Russia after the Jewish Agency for Israel created in July a new organization, the Jewish Agency in Russia, with Russian nationals among its founders.

With that move, the agency apparently changed the perception among some Russian officials that it was a foreign organization, which may have been why renewal of the agency’s accreditation was originally withheld.

Agency officials praised the Justice Ministry decision, saying that it created the groundwork for the widening of agency operations in Russia.

“For the first time, Russia officially acknowledged the right of the Jewish people to preserve its culture,” said Alla Levy, the head of the Jewish Agency for Israel’s operations in the former Soviet Union and Eastern Europe.

She added that the new license also recognized the agency’s right to confront Jewish assimilation into the broader culture.

Burg said the agency’s success in securing a license was largely the result of the support the agency received both in the international arena and within Russia.

He added that the agency’s activities in the former Soviet Union were the only portions of its overall budget that were not cut as part of its ongoing efforts to cut expenses and streamline operations.

Russian Chief Rabbi Adolph Shayevich, a founding member of the newly constituted agency operation in Russia, said that with its newly won license, the agency would be able to make a significant contribution toward the renewal of Jewish communal life in Russia.

The agency, which has operated in the Soviet Union since 1989, has assisted in the emigration of almost 750,000 Jews from the former Soviet Union to Israel.

The agency has recently begun providing communal, spiritual and humanitarian services to those who prefer to remain in Russia.

The agency’s accreditation problems began in April with a warning from the Justice Ministry that it would not be allowed to continue its operations in the former Soviet Union unless it reregistered.

All non-profit public organizations were required to reregister with the ministry under the terms of a Russian law passed last year.

Last week, the agency became the first organization to be registered under the new law.

During a tense six-month period of negotiations, the agency had submitted three registration applications, two of which were rejected.

At the same time, several agency offices were closed by the authorities, and an immigration seminar for communal leaders from southern Russia and the Caucasus was halted by police in late April.

All the offices reopened shortly after they were closed by the authorities.

The new license specifies that the agency will be allowed to act with the aim of “revitalizing the cultural and spiritual heritage of the Jewish people and the preservation of the national character of the Jewish people” in Russia.

It also grants the agency the right to provide “assistance in creating the conditions for expanding the connections between the Diaspora and the [Jewish] historic homeland, assistance to Jews interested in returning to their historic homeland [and] assistance in learning their people’s language.”

The granting of the license brought an end to recent media speculation that the authorities had suspended the organization’s operations because agency officials had breached Russian laws.

Daniel Rothstein, the agency’s legal adviser in Russia, said the authorities “had made no formal allegations” of any illegal activities against the agency.

He said none of the media reports offered any convincing proof of these claims.

“The fact that the Jewish Agency is the first organization under the new law that got its permit proves that everything that we are doing [in Russia] is on the table,” said Burg.

The agency, which is registered in 63 of 89 Russia’s regions, will operate in 250 towns throughout the country.

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