More than 16,000 Russians have reportedly emigrated to Israel since the beginning of the Ukraine conflict.

Moscow's threat to close a Jewish organisation has widened the chasm between Russia and Israel, raising concerns among Jews who are preparing to leave the country due to its conflict with Ukraine.

The Justice Ministry's request to dissolve the Jewish Agency for Israel's Russian branch was the subject of a preliminary hearing in Moscow court on Thursday. The next hearing was set for August 19.

Even as Moscow criticises Israeli leaders' statements opposing Russia's attack on Ukraine, the Kremlin rejects any political motivation.

Established over 90 years ago, the Jewish Agency is closely linked to the Israeli government. It facilitates Jewish families' immigration to Israel by managing travel arrangements and covering air travel costs.

Since the beginning of the conflict in February, more than 16,000 Russians have reportedly emigrated to Israel, according to the Jerusalem Post.

About 34,000 more people have taken vacations to Israel.

Some media reports suggest that Israel is promoting the emigration of high-tech workers that Russia needs the most right now through the Jewish Agency. 

They say that the issue extends beyond a brain drain and represents overt, if not deliberate, harm to Russia.

According to the Jerusalem Post, Russian authorities also suspect the organisation of illegally gathering information on Russian citizens.

But why has Russia sparked this diplomatic conflict over the Jewish Agency now, and what will it take to resolve the matter?

The representative of the Jewish Agency stated that his group likewise believed that this might be the outcome of some "internal Russian power struggle that has nothing to do with us", according to The Times of Israel. 

The Jewish Agency began working in Russia in 1989, two years before the end of the Soviet Union.
The Jewish Agency began working in Russia in 1989, two years before the end of the Soviet Union. (Evgenia Novozhenina / Reuters)

Analysts say that Russian action against the Jewish Agency could also be a warning shot from the Kremlin to the Israeli prime minister, Yair Lapid, who accused Russia of war crimes in April.

On Sunday, the Israeli prime minister warned Moscow that closing the Agency would have "severe" repercussions.

Ksenia Svetlova, a former member of the Israeli parliament and the director of the Mitvim think tank's Israel-Middle East programme, says that the Russian move could be an effort to support former prime leader Benjamin Netanyahu ahead of a general election on November 1.

"It could be a move to rein him in now – prevent him from selling arms to Ukraine or providing other support – but also a gesture to the person who is constantly attacking the current Israeli premier and wants to replace him – Netanyahu."

According to the former Israeli ambassador to the United States, Michael Oren, Russian action against the Jewish Agency has more to do with Middle East geopolitics than immigration.

"Our capacity to move freely in Syria is the main problem, not the Jewish Agency programmes," he told the AFP news agency.

"Russia constantly threatens to take action against us in Syria."

But given that Russia has no interest in clashing with Israel in Syria, "this is an easier way of expressing displeasure, on the Jewish Agency programmes," he said.

Thousands of Jews from all over the USSR moved to Israel after it started operating in Russia in 1989, two years before the Soviet Union collapsed. 

Of Israel's 9.4 million current population, more than a million are descendants of the former Soviet Union.

Source: TRT World