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Russia Moves to Shut Jewish Agency, Fueling Israel Tension

(Bloomberg) -- Russian authorities have asked a Moscow court to liquidate a prominent group handling the emigration of Jews to Israel in a move likely to further raise tensions with Tel Aviv fueled by the Kremlin’s invasion of Ukraine.

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The Basmanniy Court scheduled a preliminary hearing for July 28 in the case, which was brought by the Justice Ministry for alleged violations of Russian law, according to court spokeswoman Yekaterina Buravtsova.

“Russian Jews will not be held hostage by the war in Ukraine,” said Israeli Diaspora Affairs Minister Nachman Shai. “The attempt to punish the Jewish Agency for Israel’s stance on the war is deplorable and offensive.”

Russia’s Justice Ministry didn’t immediately respond to a request for comment. The Jewish Agency, which is independent but has close ties to the Israeli government, confirmed the court date but declined further comment.

Earlier this month, the group said it was continuing to operate even as Russian authorities said they found violations in a recent inspection.

“There is no justifiable reason to stop the activity of the Agency and therefore diplomatic efforts are underway to clarify the issue and regulate the activities,” said Pnina Tameno Shete, Israel’s Minister of Aliyah and Integration. “I have no doubt that they will find the appropriate solutions.”

Russian President Vladimir Putin’s relations with Israel have become increasingly strained since his invasion of Ukraine in February, which sparked unprecedented US and European sanctions. Tel Aviv has criticized Russia’s move, drawing anger from Moscow. The Jewish Agency has helped refugees from Ukraine resettle in Israel since the invasion.

“This lawsuit is disappointing news whatever the basis is and appears to be a step back in relations between Russia and Israel,” said Borukh Gorin, a spokesman for the Federation of Jewish Communities of Russia.

(Updates with Israeli reaction from third paragraph)

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