Russian authorities label the Jewish leader as a foreign agent


Eastern Europe


Goldschmidt. Photo EPA, Stephanie Pilick

Russian authorities labelled the former Chief Rabbi of Moscow a “foreign agent,” suggesting spying. But Mr. Goldschmidt does not care about this. On the contrary.

Rabbi Pinchas Goldschmidt is proud of his new “foreign agent” title. He says so to the Russian news outlet IRP.news. “I am proud to stand on the right side of history and join the distinguished list of people who oppose this terrible war.”

Mr. Goldschmidt, who left Russia after the full-scale invasion of Ukraine, does not think the decision of the Russian Ministry of Justice will change much. “For 30 years, I have nurtured the Jewish community in Moscow and defended it; no order will prevent me from doing this now.”

The press secretary of the Jewish Religious Community, Olga Esaulova, also confirmed the news that the rabbi is a foreign agent. “The community received the information when the Shabbat had already begun.”

For years, the Russian authorities have labelled dozens of people “foreign agents.” Whereas before, it only concerned organisations, since 2019, individuals can also get this label. Anyone who gets money abroad and publishes things can get such a label.

When one gets such a stamp, people are forced to explicitly state in every utterance that they are a foreign agent. In addition, they must regularly share financial results and reports on their activities with the authorities. The name “foreign agent” was used earlier in Soviet times to characterise political dissidents.


And now, the former Chief Rabbi of Moscow is among the foreign agents. In response to the decision, Mr Goldschmidt noted that it was the first time since the outbreak of the war that a religious leader had been declared a foreign agent. “This may be the beginning of a new anti-Semitic campaign against the Jewish community”, he says. “I have previously urged the Jewish community to leave the country before it is too late.”

Mr. Goldschmidt left Russia for Israel two weeks after the invasion. As CNE reported earlier, the Rabbi intended to travel back. Still, he stayed after he had been advised against returning to Moscow. Although the Jewish Telegraphic Agency reported that Mr. Goldschmidt was not a vocal critic of the war, the French daily Le Figaro wrote that the Rabbi reached out to fellow believers in Ukraine’s neighbouring Moldova a few days before the invasion. He warned the Jewish community of a potential flood of refugees.

Later, when in exile, Mr. Goldschmidt repeatedly warned his fellow believers within the Russian Federation, saying that they should leave Russia before they are made scapegoats for the hardship caused by the war in Ukraine. According to Mr. Goldschmidt, at least 35 per cent of the Jewish community has left Russia since the war began. However, the former Chief Rabbi acknowledged that escaping Putin’s regime is difficult. “Ukrainian Jews are welcome all across Europe, but when it comes to Jews in Russia, they have experienced difficulties in getting visas or entering as refugees.”



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