(JTA) — Russia’s Justice Ministry placed a Jewish cultural association with ties to the American Jewish Joint Distribution Committee on its list of nongovernmental organizations defined as “foreign agents.”
The Hesed-Tshuva group, which is based in the city of Ryazan located 120 miles south of Moscow, was placed on the list on Sept. 11, according to a report Tuesday by the news website hro.org.
The list was set up in accordance with a law adopted by the Russian parliament in 2012 that requires NGOs to register as “foreign agents” with the Ministry of Justice if they engage in “political activity” and receive foreign funding.
According to Human Rights Watch, the definition of “political activity” under the law is “so broad and vague that it can extend to all aspects of advocacy and human rights work.”
Article 20, a Russian watchdog on human rights, reported the reason for the registration was not specified but that the Hesed-Tshuva group in question was registered as receiving donations only from the Joint Distribution Committee, or JDC.
The Hesed-Tshuva group is the first addition to the list of approximately 100 foreign agent NGOs that is described in its statute as a Jewish organization.
The JDC network of Hesed offices (Hebrew for kindness or virtue) supplies various forms of aid, from food packages to medical care, to Jewish individuals in need across Russia and the former Soviet Union. JDC’s policy in Russia and in other countries around the world is to avoid taking part in partisan activities.
But on the Justice Ministry’s website, Hesed-Tshuva is described as having the goal of “influencing decision-making bodies of the state, aimed at changing state policy pursued as by them.”
Under “political activities” attributed to Hesed-Tshuva, the ministry listed “conducting public events, shaping public opinion.”
Russia under President Vladimir Putin has restituted property to Jewish organizations, and especially to communities with ties to Chabad-Lubavitch, which operates independently of JDC.
Efraim Zuroff, the Israel director of the Simon Wiesenthal Center, told JTA he was not aware of a change in policy, adding the listing could owe to the actions of a junior public servant. But if dictated from above, he said, “This could be the government taking sides in internal power struggles between Jewish groups.”