By Anshel Pfeffer / Haaretz
Authorities in Russia have ordered the deportation of an Israeli-born rabbi who has worked in the country for 13 years. Local news organizations report that the grounds for deportation could be espionage.
Rabbi Asher Krichevsky has served as the Chabad shaliach (emissary) of Omsk, in southern Siberia, since 2001. Also chief rabbi of that city, he belongs to a well-known Chabad-affiliated family and has a brother who is also a shaliach in Russia.
While no explanation was given for the deportation, Russian media raised the possibility that Krichevsky is suspected of spying for Israel. This is unlikely, however, due to the fact that Chabad rabbis are under strict instructions not to break any laws in the countries where they serve.
In addition, Krichevsky has been prosecuted recently by local Russian authorities. Last month he was fined and warned when food products past their sell-by date and “unlicensed” kosher wine were found in a kosher grocery operating under his auspices. Accusations of unhygienic food storage have also been used recently by Russian authorities to close down 12 branches of McDonald’s, which for many Russians symbolizes the United States’ cultural influence.
The most obvious reason for Rabbi Krichevsky’s deportation, it seems, is the growing xenophobia and suspicion in Russia toward foreign activists and organizations. On the other hand, Chabad is seen today as being very close to the Putin government. Its chief shaliach, Rabbi Berel Lazar, was appointed the chief rabbi of Russia by President Vladimir Putin himself, and the two appear together regularly at official ceremonies.
Two months ago Lazar and other Chabad rabbis took part in a state-sponsored memorial ceremony in Crimea – which was invaded and annexed by Russia from Ukraine earlier this year – for Jews killed in the Holocaust there. Hundreds of the religious organization’s representatives work throughout Russia, and in many places have the support of the local authorities. Putin is also generally seen as a leader with a low tolerance of anti-Semitism.
The deportation order could well be the result of a local initiative in Omsk, located over 2,000 kilometers from Moscow, as a result of the current anti-Western climate, and it may not have been sanctioned by higher echelons. The order could also be related to the ongoing conflict with Ukraine where other Chabad rabbis are working who are close to the government there, which opposes the Russian interference and invasion of eastern Ukraine.
Spokesmen for rabbis Krichevsky and Lazar were not available for comment. Menachem Brod, the spokesman of Chabad in Israel, said he was aware of the order but had no details on the reasons behind it.