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Times Of Israel
Times Of Israel
17 Feb 2024

NextImg:Hundreds rally for Navalny in Tel Aviv, Haifa as Israeli officials stay silent on death

Hundreds rallied outside Russian diplomatic institutions in Tel Aviv and Haifa on Friday in vigils for top Kremlin critic Alexei Navalny, whose death in an arctic penal colony was announced earlier that day by Russia’s Federal Penitentiary Service.

Navalny’s Anti-Corruption Foundation shared on X a photo from a vigil in Jerusalem.

Spontaneous rallies were also held in Netanya and Karmiel, Israeli-Russian news site Detaly reported.

In Tel Aviv, the crowd gathered outside the Russian embassy and chanted “Russia without Putin!” and “Russia will be free!”

Navalny, a longtime critic of Russian President Vladimir Putin, was serving a decades-long sentence for “extremism” in a Siberian prison camp known as “Polar Wolf,” which is situated above the Arctic Circle.

Prison authorities announced Friday that the opposition leader had gone for a walk, felt unwell, lost consciousness and died.

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“We are still waiting for confirmation from Navalny’s family about his death, because so far, information about Navalny’s death has been disseminated only by the Federal Penitentiary Service, which we do not consider a reliable source. Although, of course, there is practically no chance [he is still alive],” Detaly quoted Sergei Zhurkovsky, an anti-Putin activist and representative in Israel of Navalny’s Anti-Corruption Foundation.

While many Western leaders were swift to blame Putin for Navalny’s death, there has been no public comment from Israeli government lawmakers or the Foreign Ministry.

MK Vladimir Beliak of Yesh Atid, who was born in the former Soviet Union, wrote on X that Navalny was “one of the preeminent leaders of the Russian opposition,” and commended his “incredible courage” in returning to Russia after surviving a Kremlin-ordered nerve agent attack.

“In non-democratic countries, with a political police and submissive judiciary, opposition leaders… are sent to jail and die young,” Beliak wrote.

A protester holds a sign reading ‘Putin killed Navalny’ in a vigil held by Russian expatriates in memory of Kremlin critic Alexei Navalny, outside the Russian embassy in Tel Aviv, on February 16, 2024. (Screen capture: X/Kan public broadcaster; used in accordance with Clause 27a of the Copyright Law)

The rallies in Israel, which is home to over 1 million people of Russian descent, mirrored similar events held in Russian expatriate communities the world over.

In Berlin, police estimated that a crowd of 500-600 people gathered on the city’s Unter den Linden boulevard, chanting in a mixture of Russian, German and English.

Groups were also reported to have rallied in New York, Paris, Rome, Amsterdam, Barcelona, Sofia, Geneva and The Hague, among others.

In Russia itself, prosecutors warned Russians against participating in any mass protest in Moscow. Some Russians came to lay roses and carnations at a monument to victims of Soviet repression in the shadow of the former KGB headquarters.

Russian President Vladimir Putin attends his annual news conference in Moscow, Russia, Dec. 14, 2023. (Aleksander Kazakov, Sputnik, Kremlin Pool Photo via AP)

On Saturday, the OVD-Info rights group said Russian police detained over 100 people at spontaneous memorials for Navalny.

As of February 17, “more than 101 people have already been detained in 10 cities” including 11 in the capital Moscow, OVD-Info said on its website.

Navalny, a former nationalist politician and Russian lawyer who rose to prominence by producing videos documenting the corrupt dealings of Putin and his acolytes, had been on the Kremlin’s radar for several years.

He fell into a coma after being poisoned by a nerve agent in August 2020, in an attack later attributed to Russian intelligence operatives, though the Kremlin has denied the charges.

Russian opposition leader Alexei Navalny appears on a video screen set up at Moscow City Court, on May 24, 2022. (Russian Federal Penitentiary Service via AP)

After receiving treatment in Berlin, Navalny was detained at the airport upon returning to Moscow in 2021.

He had been in jail since then, charged with “extremism.”

In December 2023, two days before Putin announced his bid for reelection in 2024, Navalny disappeared from his Moscow prison, only to reemerge three weeks later in the so-called “Polar Wolf” penal colony above the Arctic Circle, where he had been transferred for unspecified reasons.