Russia’s recent threats to ban the Jewish Agency for Israel are part of its broader attempts to sow discord in the West, former Jewish Agency chairman and human rights activist Natan Sharansky said on Monday.

In an interview with i24News, Sharanksy said that Russia’s stated intention to shut down the Jewish Agency is a message to the Israeli government.

“I believe that we have to make it very clear that it is in the interests of Russia that the Jewish Agency continues to operate. It is one of the very few international organizations still open in Russia, which gives them contact with all of the Jewish world,” said Sharansky, noting that Israel “should not be blackmailed.”

“The only freedom that still is not touched (in Russia) is the freedom of immigration,” he added.

The Kremlin feels “absolutely isolated after their barbaric attack on Ukraine” and Russian authorities are “looking for ways to break the Western unity,” Sharansky told i24.

With Russian President Vladimir Putin unable to travel to Washington, London or Finland, he can only go to Iran, and in order to break his isolation is looking for points of weakness, whereby he can pressure other countries to opt out of the campaign against Russia, according to Sharansky.

“And he believes that for Israel the Jewish Agency is very important, and it is very easy to attack,” he added, referring to the Russian law on “foreign agents” that targets anyone who receives support from abroad.

Sharansky spent nine years in Soviet prisons in the 1970s and 1980s, and served as the Jewish Agency’s chairman from 2009 to 2018.

Meanwhile, Ynet reported on Monday that Moscow has conveyed “reassuring messages” to Jerusalem stating that diplomatic ties between the countries remain unchanged, and that the Jewish Agency issue is strictly a legal one.

“Israel also sent messages of reassurance to Russia that it was looking to settle the dispute and return to normal,” the report said.

“Israel also reassured the Jewish community in Russia in an attempt to allay concerns about the impact [of] closing the agency’s offices could have on Israel-Russia relations and on Russia’s relations with its Jewish community,” Ynet said.

An Israeli legal delegation is still waiting for a visa to enter Russia, and it remains unclear whether it will be able to arrive in time for a court hearing on the Jewish Agency in Moscow, scheduled for July 28.

JNS

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