KAZAN, Russia (JTA) — A Russian court dissolved a Jewish community association, in a move critics said was part of a crackdown on foreign NGOs but others said was procedural.
The Cherepovets City Court on Aug. 25 scrapped the association known as The Jewish Community of Cherepovets from the national register of nonprofit organizations, citing its repeated failures to file the financial activity reports required by law of such groups, the Interfax news agency reported.
The ruling in Cherepovets, which is located 250 miles north of Moscow, came amid a crackdown in Russia on nongovernmental organizations with foreign ties, as per 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.
Critics of this legislation, under which at least one Jewish organization has been flagged as a foreign agent, said it is designed to isolate opposition groups.
But the Federation of Jewish Communities of Russia, the Chabad-affiliated body responsible for dozens of the country’s Jewish congregations, said in a statement Thursday that the dissolution was “a technical issue” as the Jewish association in Cherepovets, which was founded in 2005, had for a while existed only on paper.
“Community activities became more and more nominal. The reason for the closure was that the community ceased to provide reports on their activities,” said Boruch Gorin, a senior aide to Russian Chief Rabbi Berel Lazar.
Gorin’s statement to the news website Jewish.Ru came one day after Paul Goble, a well-known Russian affairs analyst and longtime critic of Russia, called the dissolution “the most disturbing indication yet” of “Kremlin-sponsored xenophobia.”
Russian President Vladimir Putin, who is often accused of limiting civil liberties and violating human rights, is widely credited with facilitating unprecedented growth among Russian Jewish communities.
Under Putin, who has written about his respect for the Jewish faith and the positive role that Jews had on him while he was growing up in St. Petersburg, Russian Jewish communities – especially those affiliated with Chabad – have received land and other amenities from the government.
After annexing Crimea from Ukraine in 214, Putin said he had acted to protect minorities from pro-fascist anti-Semites, who he said were behind the revolution that earlier in the year ousted his ally former Ukrainian President Viktor Yanukovych.
Russian and Ukrainian officials and propagandists subsequent;y exchanged accusations in the media of anti-Semitism.
In both Russia and Ukraine, several dozen anti-Semitic incidents are reported each year – a fraction of the number in Western European countries, including France and the United Kingdom.