Today concluding my review of this piece by reporter Gevorg Mirzayan. Where we left off: We were discussing the rather startling number, much bigger than I would have imagined, of Russian Jews emigrating to Israel: Almost 7,000 in 2021; and a whopping 15,000 in 2022, which is only half over. It goes without saying that the Russia-Ukraine war has been a factor in 2022. In the Russian press you keep reading about various celebrities who left in a huff because they opposed the war. I just didn’t realize the numbers were that big.
All these years Sokhnut (=The Agency) has been operating on Russian soil and stimulating emigration, they even sponsor youth camps, where they engage in education, teaching Jewish customs and explaining the legal ramifications of emigrating, etc. According to Yury Kanner, who is the President of the Jewish Congress of Russia, there is not a single country in world (which contains Jews) where there is not a branch of Sokhnut. Well, there is one exception: Iran. (Iran has Jews, but no Sokhnut.)
Well, don’t look now, but Russia may be the first country in the world to actually shut down this Agency. Because Russia is really ticked off right now. Moscow’s Chief Rabbi Pinkhas Goldsmit is worried about this: “We are really scared that the Iron Curtain might descend again,” Godsmit frets, “and then it will once again be impossible to leave Russia.” [One is tempted to say: “Well, better get out now, while you can,” but that would be flippant.]
What these Rabbis and others fear is not just the closing of Sokhnut itself, but the precedent it will set, for other countries. Up until now all the other countries were trembling in fear they would be accused of anti-Semitism; but if Russia does it, then they might acquire the courage… The Israelis are certainly worried about this, I mean Russia is their milk cow, worried enough to send the delegation to Moscow to engage in some patter-song with a tap dance. But it is not at all clear whether Israeli Prime Minister Lapid will be able to talk Putin out of taking this step. Fact is: Putin hates Lapid. Hates him so much, he wouldn’t even congratulate him on his electoral victory, and that’s saying a lot about Putin, who is essentially a very polite man, once you get to know him.
What did Lapid do, that was so horrible? Well, he took Ukraine’s side, big time, Came out with very harsh words against Russia, accusing it of committing war crimes and atrocities. Turning up the pathos-meter, he whined about a horrible “big country” attacking an innocent “smaller and weaker country”. Boo hoo, Crimea River.
Further. Invoking Godwin’s Law, Lapid went there, he compared Russia to Nazi Germany (=big bully of a country attacking its smaller neighbor and committing atrocities against innocent civilians). If Russia = Germany, then Putin = Hitler. That same Russia whose citizens suffered the most from Hitler’s army. That same Russia which rescued Jews from the Nazi concentration camps. This is the sort of slap in the face that Russia simply cannot endure, especially from a guy who is basically somebody else’s finger-puppet.
Given all of this, one should not be surprised if Sokhnut is shut down, eventually. However, it definitely won’t happen overnight. Reminder that the first legal hearing is scheduled for July 28 in the Basmanny Court in Moscow. There is also an appeals process, and this whole legal ordeal might take a very long time. Plus, Israel is counting on the brilliance and persuasiveness of their diplomatic negotiating team. And if honey doesn’t work, they might try some vinegar. According to this piece, by reporter Alyona Zadorozhnaya, Lapid is threatening to send his team to the International Sanctions Olympics. Up until now, resisting political pressure from the U.S., Israel has held back from joining in the American/European economic sanctions against Russia. However, if Sokhnut is shut down, they may well jump into the Games feet first, as tit-for-tat payback. The article doesn’t say what kind of sanctions we are talking about, but I seem to recall reading somewhere that Russia imports a lot of high-tech stuff from Israel. So, that might actually hurt, although Russia has the power to hurt back much more.
For example, by including Israel on its ever-growing list of “Unfriendly Nations”. That would be an ouchie for Israel. The two nations are already on opposite sides of the physical battlefield, not just in the Ukraine, but also in Syria, where Russia’s natural allies are Iran and Hezbollah.
On the other hand, there is a tiny chance that Netanyahu might return to the PM post in the autumn elections. In which case, Russia-Israel relations might warm up again, unless it’s too late for that. But one fact is clear: under Lapid, the Russia-Israel relationship is doomed to fade, to wither, to dry up.
Sokhnut, in other words.