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As Russia threatens to shutter Jewish Agency, many hear echoes of the past

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The Conversation via AP — Russia’s invasion of Ukraine in February 2022 sparked a surge of refugees fleeing the war zone, but political repression and economic uncertainty have also prompted emigration from Russia itself. Among the emigrants are Russian Jews, 16,000 of whom have left for Israel in the nearly six months since the war’s start.

Now, Russia’s Justice Ministry is threatening the organization that helps the emigrants leave. A Moscow court held a preliminary hearing on July 28, 2022, about the ministry’s application to dissolve the Russian branch of the Jewish Agency for Israel.

The Jewish Agency, a nonprofit with government ties that is older than the country itself, helps Jews around the world who want to immigrate to Israel. The move to shut down its operations in Russia has raised alarm – particularly among people who see it as turning back the clock to a time, not so long ago, when Soviet Russia forced Jews to endure state-sponsored antisemitism while trampling on their right to emigrate.

On paper, the Soviet Union vowed to create an egalitarian society. In reality, it denied rights to minority populations, including Jews.

The government closed down Jewish schools and cultural institutions, criminalized the teaching of Hebrew, murdered Jewish leaders, orchestrated anti-Jewish campaigns in the press and in the courts, and created glass ceilings that blocked Jews’ ability to advance at school and in the workplace.

In 1966, during a telephone address to Jewish Americans, Martin Luther King Jr. called it “a kind of spiritual and cultural genocide.”

Cold War politics made the predicament worse. The Soviet government’s domestic persecutions of Jews were bound up in its foreign policy toward Israel. When the country declared independence in 1948, the US and USSR each raced to secure its allegiance. After Israel aligned with the West, however, the Soviet Union became patron of the Arab states and broke diplomatic ties with Israel in 1967.

During the string of........

© The Times of Israel

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