(JTA) — For the second time this year, Russian authorities have ordered out of the country a foreign Chabad rabbi who had lived there for years.
This week, a Moscow district court ordered Yosef Khersonsky, an Israeli who heads one of the capital’s communities, to leave the Russian Federation in connection with his “setting up without permission a for-profit foreign entity,” the RIA Novosti news agency reported. The court did not specify the nature of the entity.
In a hearing, Khersonsky denied the allegation, arguing that he acted as a consultant on religious matters for existing Jewish institutions, the report said. He intends to appeal the ruling.
In March, a Russian appeals court affirmed an expulsion order issued against an American rabbi working in Sochi in what a local leader of the Chabad movement called a “dark day” for Jews.
In its ruling against Ari Edelkopf, the Krasnodar Court of Appeals accepted the determination of a Sochi tribunal that Edelkopf, who had been working as Chabad’s emissary to the city, was a threat to national security.
Boruch Gorin, a senior Chabad rabbi in Russia, told the AFP news agency that both expulsion orders were part of an attempt by Russian authorities “to replace our foreign rabbis with Russian ones, to head communities so that they [the authorities] could control them better.”
Approximately half of the 70 rabbis working for the Chabad-affiliated Federation of Jewish Communities of Russia are foreign. At least eight of them have been denied permission to work in Russia over the past decade, Gorin told JTA in March.
Under President Vladimir Putin, Russian Jews have experienced a cultural revival in which Chabad has played a leading role. Dozens of synagogues and Jewish community property have been returned to communities, while the authorities and judiciary have been relatively intolerant of anti-Semitic violence and hate speech against Jews.
But Putin has also led a crackdown on human rights and religious groups in general, particularly those with international affiliations. Since 2012, Russia has slipped in international rankings of free speech and human rights: Freedom House, a U.S.-based nongovernmental agency, recently moved the country to “not free” from “partly free” on its Freedom on the Internet index.
Under legislation from 2012 that imposed major limitations on the work of groups with foreign funding, a Jewish charitable group from Ryazan, near Moscow, was flagged in 2015 by the Justice Ministry as a “foreign agent” over its funding from the American Jewish Joint Distribution Committee and its reproduction in a newsletter of political op-eds that appeared in the L’chaim Jewish weekly.
Last year, a court in Sverdlovsk convicted a teacher, Semen Tykman, of inciting hatred among students at his Chabad school against Germans and propagating the idea of Jewish superiority. Authorities raided his school and another one in 2015, confiscating textbooks, which some Russian Jews suggested was to create a semblance of equivalence with Russia’s crackdown on radical Islam.