The Dubious Ties Between Lieberman's Man and Moscow

Party activist and former MK Leon Litinetsky chairs the Israeli branch a Putin-sponsored Russian 'cultural organization' that allegedly urges compatriots to resettle in their homeland.

Avo O

Leon Litinetsky, a former Yisrael Beitenu MK who participated in the coalition negotiations alongside party chairman Avigdor Lieberman and is in charge of pensions for Russian immigrants, is a member of the International Coordinating Council of Russian Compatriots – an organization that operates under the sponsorship of the Russian government and is funded by it.

Among its declared objectives: “Promoting an objective image of Russia and developing the supply of information for native Russians [in the diasporas] in the Russian language” and “developing the cultural-ethnic independence of the Russian diasporas and their ties to the historic homeland.”

The coordinating council is one of a series of bodies operating in the context of the “Russian world” idea – a concept that was introduced to the political discourse in Russia by President Vladimir Putin and has gained popularity since then, thanks among other things to vigorous propaganda and an investment of billions by the government. As part of the idea, which attempts to unify Russian speakers worldwide around “Russian civilization,” in 2008 Rossotrudnichestvo (Federal Agency for the Commonwealth of Independent States, Compatriots Living Abroad and International Humanitarian Cooperation) was established, which is responsible for work with “Russian compatriots abroad,” among other things.

Among the objectives of the organization: promoting Russian interests by means of “popular diplomacy” and a resettling of Russian exiles in their homeland. In addition, the Russian Foreign Ministry has a department for working with Russians living abroad, with similar objectives.

In 2012 the head of Rossotrudnichestvo at the time declared that Russia “must restore the options of using ‘soft power’ in its international relations.” In 2013 a clause regarding “assistance in developing Russia’s ‘soft power’ potential and increasing the cultural and educational presence of Russia in the world” was included in the five-year plan of the Russian Foreign Ministry. Another clause was devoted to “strengthening ties with native Russians.”

The organization’s activity is controversial in the Russian-speaking diasporas, particularly among opponents of Putin’s policy, which, as we recall, included the annexation of the Crimean Peninsula, military intervention in Ukraine, anti-LGBT legislation and silencing opponents of the regime.

In 2013 the agency’s activity caused a minor diplomatic scandal between the United States and Russia. According to the media in both countries, including The Washington Post, the FBI suspected at the time that an agency representative in the U.S. capital was recruiting spies under cover of a program of visits to Russia. The representative himself, Yury Zaytsev, responded in the Russian media, claiming that the suspicions were bizarre and reminiscent of “echoes of the Cold War” and “a witch hunt.”

In November, at the World Conference of Russian Compatriots in Moscow, in which the former MK participated, the chairman of the coordinating council, of which Litinetsky is a member, expressed concern in light of “the challenge presented to the world by the global liberal project that is destroying the family.”

The information that in 2015 Litinetsky had joined the organization sponsored by the coordinating council in particular and the Putin regime in general aroused reactions on the Russian-language social networks in Israel. On Facebook, right-wing Israeli blogger Mark Radutzky called Litinsky’s activity “anti-Zionist,” and asked whether in light of Lieberman’s refusal to discuss this activity, Yisrael Beitenu (Israel is our Home) is actually “Russia Beitenu” (Russia is our Home).

In a phone conversation, Litinetsky told Haaretz that he is a member of the Coordinating Council for Russian Compatriots in Israel, whose objectives include preserving the Russian language, commemorating the Soviet soldiers who fought the Nazis, and improving the standard of living of Russian-speaking pensioners in Israel.

“We’re working according to programs of our own,” he emphasized, vehemently denying that the Israeli coordinating council operates under the aegis of a program designed to bring Russian natives back to their homeland.

When asked whether the organizations that are members of the council receive budgets via foundations funded by the Russian Foreign Ministry and Rossotrudnichestvo, Litinetsky said: “Not at all – we’re funded via various foundations, for example the Russian World Foundation and others.”

Asked to confirm that the umbrella organization of which he is a member operates under the sponsorship of Rossotrudnichestvo and the Russian Foreign Ministry, Litinetsky replied: “I can’t tell you whether or not that’s the case,” emphasizing that he is a member of the council only as a representative of the Israeli organizations. He emphasized that he is also a member of the World Zionist Congress.

In February, Litinetsky was chosen as chairman of the Coordinating Council of Russian Compatriots in Israel. Despite his denial, sources close to the council confirmed that it was established by the Russian Foreign Ministry, which also budgets various activities of the participating members and intervenes to some extent in the content.

The sources also said that the Russian Foreign Ministry decides who will head the council and transmit the message to its members. On the website of the International Coordinating Council, there is a description of the vote in which Litinetsky was elected chairman: 20 members voted in favor, four abstained. The vote took place in the Russian Cultural Center in Tel Aviv in the presence of the adviser to the Russian Embassy in Israel, Alexander Kryukov, and a representative of Rossotrudnichestvo, Natalia Yakimchuk.