. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Ministry Clears Path for Jewish Agency Work

After a tense six months and 14 days, the Jewish Agency has now been formally authorized to continue its work in Russia by the Justice Ministry.

The agency, also known by its Hebrew name, Sochnut, has operated in Russia since 1989 and has to date assisted in the repatriation of almost a quarter of a million Russian Jews to Israel. Wrangles over the organization's reaccreditation were finally resolved when documents were formally approved by the ministry and handed over to the agency Thursday.

This effectively signifies an end to press speculation that the Sochnut would not be reregistered due to allegations by an anonymous government source of links with Israel's Mossad intelligence service, as reported by Interfax in June.

At a press conference Thursday announcing the agency's successful reregistration, its legal representative, Daniel Rothstein, emphasized that the Justice Ministry had made no formal allegations of any illegal activities on the part of the agency, and that none of the press reports he had seen offered any substantiation of these claims.

Sochnut's problems began in April with a warning from the Justice Ministry that if the agency did not reregister it would be closed down. All public associations are required to reregister with the ministry according to a new law passed in May 1995, but technically have until the end of 1999 to do so.

The department at the Justice Ministry responsible for reregistering public associations would not comment Thursday on why the ministry was especially insistent on Sochnut's reregistration so far in advance of this date.

At the Thursday press conference Jewish Agency Chairman Abraham Burg spoke of repeated difficulties in getting the agency's application accepted by the ministry, as well as protracted discussion of the mechanics of the reregistration before it was finally approved.

However, Burg jubilantly concluded that all other foreign public organizations in Russia would do well to follow the agency's example of full cooperation with the ministry.

"Go the agency's way and you will operate in Russia," he said, reiterating the agency's intent to continue to repatriate Jews to Israel, regardless of the recent difficulties. "Maybe sometimes you need a crisis to raise the curtain over this historical process."

The new license defines the Jewish Agency as a Russia-wide, local public body. This definition -- distinct from that of a foreign body operating in Russia -- will enable the organization to operate throughout the country.

In a Sochnut press release Burg was quoted as saying: "There is no doubt that the relicensing of the Jewish Agency in Russia was made possible by our policy of separating Russian-Israel state relations from relations between Russia and the Jewish Agency as a worldwide body."