Nativ (נתיב-path) or officially Lishkat Hakesher or The Liaison Bureau, is an Israeli liaison organization that maintained contact with Jews living in the Eastern Bloc during the Cold War and encouraged aliyah, or immigration to Israel.
Founded as part of the Prime Minister’s office by Prime Minister Moshe Sharett in 1952–1953, Nativ was designed to function covertly, making contacts, fostering Jewish education, and aiding immigration to Israel. Nativ was not the first organization to do this; Mossad Le’aliyah Bet, part of the Haganah, had brought Jews to Israel in defiance of the British Mandate, but this ended with the creation of Israel. Nativ was to continue that mission, except now in defiance of the Soviet Union.
Nativ began its foreign operations out of Israeli embassies, yet this ended after the Six-Day War, when Russia and fellow Soviet countries severed diplomatic ties with Israel. This led Nativ to focus more of its efforts on Western countries, where it lobbied governments to promote greater emigration freedom in the USSR with the phrase „Let My People Go”. While its Soviet operations were stymied, the Refusenik movement began, bringing greater international attention to the Soviet emigration issue. Nativ assisted the movement by materially supporting the refuseniks and fostering refusenik organizations.
In the mid 1970s international pressure forced the Soviet Union to allow greater emigration, and the number of Soviet Jews leaving for Israel increased dramatically. The dissolution of the Soviet Union ended the need to conduct operations clandestinely, and today Lishkat Hakesher openly runs Jewish clubs and education services in Russia. It is also tasked with issuing visas and processing immigrants coming to Israel under the Law of Return.
When Kadima formed a coalition government with Yisrael Beiteinu, Nativ was moved from the Prime Minister’s Office to the Ministry of Strategic Affairs. In February 2007, Avigdor Liberman, the Minister of Strategic Affairs and a Russian emigre, proposed that Lishkat Hakesher move into new operations among Russian Jews who emigrated to the United States, Canada, and Germany. Under Liberman’s leadership, Nativ’s Operation Germany attempted to convince ethnic Jewish immigrants from the former Soviet Union to emigrate from Germany to Israel.
List of leaders:
- Shaul Avigur 1953–1970
- Nehemiah Levanon 1970–1980
- Yehuda Lapidot 1980–1986
- David Bar-Tov 1986–1992
- Yaakov Kedmi 1992–1999
- Zvi Magen 1999–2006
- Naomi Ben-Ami 2006–present