Sanctions against Russian donor oligarchs hit Israeli institutions

JERUSALEM (AP) — Billionaire Moshe Kantor has severed his longtime ties with Tel Aviv University — joining a growing list of Russian Jewish oligarchs who have curtailed their philanthropic activities after facing international sanctions for their ties to President Vladimir Putin.

The sanctions have rocked the world of Jewish philanthropy, which relies heavily on deep-pocketed donors like Kantor, and forced a number of high-profile organizations to abruptly end partnerships with their benefactors since Russia invaded. Ukraine on February 24.

Kantor, a Russian fertilizer tycoon who also holds British citizenship, served for a long time as president of the European Jewish Congress, becoming a staunch fighter against anti-Semitism. He founded or led a number of other prominent Jewish causes, including the World Holocaust Forum, served on the board of Israel’s national Holocaust memorial Yad Vashem, and helped inaugurate the Kantor Center for Holocaust Study. of Contemporary European Judaism at Tel Aviv University.

But after the UK imposed sanctions on Kantor earlier this month, he abruptly resigned from the European Jewish Congress after 15 years at the helm. Tel Aviv University confirmed this week that Kantor’s name had been removed from the Center for Jewish Studies, just days before the release of its annual report on global anti-Semitism.

A statement released through a spokeswoman said Kantor had asked on his own initiative to suspend ties with a number of organizations.

“Dr. Kantor has voluntarily withdrawn with immediate effect from his active participation in the European Jewish Congress, the World Holocaust Forum Foundation and the Kantor Center so as not to distract from the important work of these organizations” , the statement said.

Kantor, whose net worth is estimated by Forbes at $4.6 billion, joins a number of wealthy Russian Jewish businessmen who will be sanctioned by the West for their alleged ties to Putin.

Yad Vashem announced last month that it was suspending a donation of tens of millions of dollars from Roman Abramovich, owner of Chelsea soccer club, after it was sanctioned by the United Kingdom and the European Union. He cited “recent developments”.

Three other oligarchs who have been sanctioned by the West – Mikhail Fridman, Petr Aven and German Khan – abruptly resigned from the Genesis Philanthropy Group last month. In an email to supporters, the group said the men left “to ensure GPG’s ability to stay true to its mission.” He made no mention of sanctions.

The group funds projects aimed at strengthening Jewish communities and causes around the world. The three men also helped establish the Genesis Prize — an annual award created with a $100 million endowment that recognizes a person for professional achievement and commitment to Jewish values.

Past recipients of the million dollar prize include actor Michael Douglas, filmmaker Steven Spielberg and former New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg. This year’s winner is Albert Bourlathe chief executive of drugmaker Pfizer, who is expected to visit Jerusalem in June for an awards ceremony.

The oligarchs claimed that the sanctions were unfair. Some, like Fridman, even spoke out against the Russian war on Ukraine, while Abramovich tried to position himself as a so-called peacemaker between belligerent countries.

Ariel Muzicant, acting president of the European Jewish Congress, said the organization was shocked by the sanctions against Kantor, who he said “dedicated his life to the fight against anti-Semitism, Holocaust remembrance and the security of the Jewish communities of Europe”.

“It is very sad and disturbing that Dr Kantor, who has made an unprecedented contribution to the fight against anti-Semitism and to the flourishing of Jewish life in Europe for more than 15 years, has been sanctioned without a basis based on evidence. , causing great harm to many people. and organizations,” he said.

Many Jewish oligarchs maintain close ties to Israel, spend time in the country and even hold citizenship. This created a delicate situation for the country, which was established as a haven for Jews but also has strong ties to the West, especially the United States

Israeli leaders have said they will not allow the country to be used to circumvent international sanctions, although some oligarchs have apparently spent more time in Israel. Abramovich, who took Israeli citizenship in 2018, was recently spotted at Israel’s international airport, for example.

Jennifer Laszlo Mizrahi, a Jewish-American philanthropist, said the oligarchs’ troubles have created “a huge challenge for nonprofits that rely on their goodwill.”

She compared the crisis to the period following the fall of financier Bernie Madoff, who squandered the fortunes of numerous Jewish charities in a massive Ponzi scheme in the late 2000s. She said many charities , suddenly deprived of sources of funding, were forced to close, consolidate or lay off workers.

Mizrahi said a discussion among professionals in the philanthropic world about the origins of donor money “is happening in a very big way.”

But she said given the controversial origins of so many fortunes over the decades, dating back to industrialists like Henry Ford or Andrew Carnegie, she believes it is more important to ensure charitable funds are distributed effectively. . She said it’s especially important that recipients of charitable programs have a role in their decisions.

“The best solution is not to say that I will not take money from individual A, B, C or D,” she said. Instead, she said the goal should be to use the money “in the best way to make the world a better place”.

But Anshel Pfeffer, a columnist for the Haaretz daily, recently wrote that the oligarchs have “polluted institutions with their dirty money.”

He said the war in Ukraine is a “stark awakening to the breadth and depth of the effect of the oligarch class on the organizational climate of the Jewish world.”

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