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Jewish Agency Head Hopeful About Renewed Status in Russia

August 8, 1996
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The chairman of the Jewish Agency for Israel is continuing to express hope that the status of agency operations in Russia would soon be settled.

“We are working on this, and I do hope that very soon” the question of the agency’s accreditation in Russia “will be over,” said Avraham Burg during a recent one-day trip to the Russian capital.

Despite the optimism, he said he could not estimate how long it would be before the agency’s status here would be settled.

But he did assure the Jewish community that the controversy over the agency’s license does “not touch individual Jews in the big cities and on the periphery.”

“Our offices are open, the information is available, the emissaries are working.” he said.

During his visit, Burg met with agency emissaries from all across the former Soviet Union and made a stopover at an agency youth camp in a Moscow suburb.

But he did not meet with Russian officials as originally planned.

Burg said the agency had made a decision not to take any political steps until the question of its registration in Russia is resolved.

The agency is establishing a new organization, the Jewish Agency in the Russian Federation, which is intended to settle an ongoing dispute between the agency and Russian authorities about the agency’s accreditation.

The agency’s decision to create a new body comes in the wake of the Russian Justice Ministry’s recent refusal to renew the accreditation, which was canceled in April.

By listing Russian nationals among the new body’s founders, the agency appears to be trying to change how its activities are perceived by Russian authorities, who have been treating the agency as a foreign-based international organization founded by non-Russian citizens.

Some observers believe the agency controversy was caused by tensions in Russian-Israeli relations.

“These relations are becoming cooler,” said Eduard Kuznetsov, a member of the agency’s board of governors who is also editor-in-chief of Vesty, a Russian- language newspaper in Israel.

“Russia’s hopes for becoming close friends with Israel did not come true. Now Russia is taking revenge on Israel for that” by withholding the agency’s accreditation, said Kuznetsov.

The Jewish Agency expects 65,000 Jews to leave the former Soviet Union for Israel this year, 50 percent of whom are expected to emigrate from the Russian Federation.

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