JERUSALEM (JTA) — Russian officials reportedly closed two local offices of Israel’s Nativ organization.
The St. Petersburg and Novosibirsk offices of the group, which helps Jews from the former Soviet Union make aliyah, have been closed, according to a report Oct. 14 in the Israeli daily Ma’ariv.
The closings will make it difficult, if not impossible, for more than 200 Russian Jews currently seeking to leave for Israel to receive the documents they need, the newspaper reported.
Nativ’s primary work is to determine if Russian Jews requesting to immigrate to Israel are eligible to make aliyah under the Law of Return.
The move comes two weeks after Israeli diplomat Shmuel Polishuk, head of the Nativ delegation to Russia, was asked to leave the country.
Polishuk, according to media reports including Ma’ariv and Reuters, was sent out of the country after being accused of espionage. Nativ officials also told Ma’ariv that Russian security agencies were following Nativ employees and interfering in their work.
"Shmuel Polishuk was caught red-handed in Moscow," Russian Foreign Ministry spokesman Andrei Nesterenko told Reuters, though Polishuk was not declared a persona non-grata by Moscow, which is usually done to suspected spies.
The Israeli government formally cut links between Nativ and Israeli intelligence services a decade ago.
During Soviet times, Nativ developed covert contacts with Jews in the Soviet bloc, but with the lifting of the Iron Curtain, it became directly involved in encouraging Jews from the former Soviet Union to make aliyah.