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Israel warns dual citizens about travel to Russia

Jerusalem tells Israeli-Russian citizens they could be drafted into Russian army.
An Aeroflot-Russian Airlines Boeing 777-3M0 lands at Ben Gurion International Airport in Lod, east of Tel Aviv, Israel,  Aug. 3, 2020.

Israel’s Foreign Ministry issued Sept. 30 an advisory alert to dual Israeli-Russian citizens. “Israeli citizens who also hold Russian citizenship who enter, stay in, or will visit inside the borders of the Russian Federation, will be subject to Russian laws and regulations, including decisions regarding drafting citizens into the Russian military and the possibility of leaving the state’s borders,” the notice read.

Also on Sept. 30, the ministry tweeted, “Israel supports the sovereignty and territorial integrity of Ukraine. We will not recognize the annexation of the four provinces by Russia. Israel has repeated this clear position many times, including in recent days.” The tweet toed in line with the American and European position expressed by US Secretary of State Antony Blinken, French President Emmanuel Macron and German Chancellor Olaf Scholz.

The Sept. 30 tweet followed Moscow’s decision to annex parts of Ukraine, claiming residents there supported annexation in a referendum held earlier in the week. Already before the referendum, Israel issued a statement saying that like Ukraine and its allies, it won’t recognize its results.

Why is this important?

These statements by Jerusalem come against the backdrop of preparations in Israel for a possible mass influx of Jews from Russia. Israeli law enables any person with a Jewish parent to immigrate to Israel and become a citizen. Many Russian Jews actually hold already dual citizenship, and there are many Israeli Russians living in Israel who do business in Russia. Jerusalem estimates that many Russian Jews might now opt to travel to Israel and even settle in Israel permanently over fears to be recruited into the Russian army.

In fact, on Oct. 2, the government approved a $25 million budget for absorbing Russian Jewish immigrants arriving in Israel. It also authorized the Jewish Agency to open transition refugee camps for Russian Jews in Finland and Azerbaijan.

Behind the scenes

Israel is playing a complicated diplomatic game of supporting Ukraine and the West while avoiding destroying its ties with Russia. There are three reasons for that.

  • Russia’s control of Syrian airspace. Israel coordinates with Russia any alleged aerial attacks on Syrian soil, so as not to target Russian aircraft.
  • Russia is a permanent member of the United Nations Security Council, and thus a signatory to the 2015 nuclear deal with Iran. While Jerusalem does not expect Moscow to adopt the Israeli position against a renewed Iran deal, it is concerned over recent rapprochement between Moscow and Tehran.
  • The large Jewish Russian community. Moscow has banned the Jewish Agency, which assists immigration to Israel, from operating in Russia. The two countries are now negotiating over this decision. A Moscow-court debate on the issue scheduled for Sept. 19 was delayed until Oct. 19.

Reports say that fear of destroying bilateral relations with Moscow was the reason why Jerusalem chose to issue a low-level advisory notice, instead of a formal high-level travel warning. That being said, Israel’s pro-active position on the Russian referendum indicates that Jerusalem’s first priority now is showing Washington it is in the camp of the “good guys.” Tensions with the United States against the backdrop of the Palestinian issue and also on Iran might have pressured Jerusalem to publicly repeat its anti-Russian stance this week, so as not to further burden Israel-US bilateral relations.

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