Photo Credit: US Embassy Moldova
Assistant Secretary of State Victoria Nuland.

Last Saturday night, we reported that police in Portugal had arrested the leader of the Jewish community in Porto, Rabbi Daniel Litvak, the Friday before on suspicion of helping the Russian-Israeli tycoon and owner of the Chelsea football club Roman Abramovich obtain Portuguese citizenship illegally (Portuguese Rabbi Arrested for Helping Roman Abramovich Get Citizenship). Last Thursday, a Portuguese government source told Reuters that Abramovich could be stripped of his citizenship.

Now, an Associated Press report that’s being picked up across Western media (As Ukraine war rages, Israel grapples with fate of oligarchs) suggests that several dozen Russian-Jewish tycoons have received Israeli citizenship or residency in recent years, and many of them “have good working relations with the Kremlin.”

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As is usually the case with AP stories, there are at least two “dahs” in this one: 1. Every Jew is entitled to Israeli citizenship under the law of Return unless he or she has committed serious crimes; and 2. You can’t become a Russian tycoon without good working relations with the Kremlin. It’s an absolute prerequisite.

But in times when Western countries are engaged in a manhunt of President Vladimir Putin’s close associates, past and present, maintaining good working relations with the Kremlin can be a big problem for you, if you happen to be a tycoon of any faith. Last Thursday, the UK imposed severe sanctions on seven Russian billionaires with ties to Putin, including the aluminum magnate Oleg Deripaska and Roman Abramovich. Both happen to be Jewish.

The new British sanctions are part of a worldwide search for “oligarchs’ havens,” as the NY Times called them last week. The US, UK, and EU are going after those tycoons’ yachts, private jets, and mansions. In the US, Russian billionaires’ money is being handled by an exclusive firm called Concord Management.

The AP noted disapprovingly that Israel has not joined the sanctions imposed by the US, Britain, and the European Union, adding that as the war in Ukraine drags on, and other names are being added to the list of hunted wealthy Jews, the pressure is increasing on the Jewish State to join the hunting party.

Undersecretary of state for political affairs Victoria Nuland on Sunday urged Israel to join the group of countries that have sanctioned Russia. “You don’t want to become the last haven for dirty money that’s fueling Putin’s wars,” she said.

Former State Dept. analyst, adviser, and negotiator Aaron David Miller tweeted in response: “That’s the toughest battering of Israeli policy since the crisis began or of any policy in a very long while.”

And while the Israeli government is mulling the best way to respond to international pressure to abandon the very people for whose protection it has been conceived, last week, Yad Vashem announced it was suspending an $8 million donation from Abramovich.

In response to the Jewish Press’ inquiry, the Yad Vashem spokesman sent us a link to the organization’s short statement dated March 10: “Announcement regarding suspension of the strategic partnership with Mr. Roman Abramovich: In light of recent developments, Yad Vashem has decided to suspend the strategic partnership with Mr. Roman Abramovich.”

On February 22, Abramovich announced a long-term partnership to strengthen Yad Vashem’s work in the field of Holocaust research and commemoration. Yad Vashem Chairman Danny Dayan praised the multi-million-dollar partnership and said: “We thank Roman Abramovich from the bottom of our hearts for his generous contribution, which will be a significant reinforcement of Yad Vashem’s work. This partnership emphasizes his long-standing commitment to the commemoration of the Holocaust and the fight against antisemitism and strengthens Yad Vashem’s determination to continue its activities as humanity’s gatekeeper to accurate Holocaust remembrance based on historical facts. This memory will continue to be relevant to the Jewish people and to all of humanity, especially at a time when antisemitism is spreading throughout the world. We know that this strategic partnership will lead to further expansion and deepening of Yad Vashem’s activities in Israel and around the world.”

According to the AP, in recent years many Russian-Jewish tycoons have sought Israeli citizenship. Putin’s former buddy, energy magnate Leonid Nevzlin, came to Israel for shelter from the boss. Others used the freely-offered citizenship as an insurance policy for just the current kind of trouble. Abramovich received his Israeli citizenship in 2018 after his British visa had not been renewed because the Brits were unhappy with Putin’s sending agents to poison his detractors in London.

In 1954, the Law of Return was amended at the request of the Interior Minister to include a section allowing the Minister to refuse Israeli citizenship to a Jew “with a criminal record who may endanger the public peace.” Israel’s Supreme Court has held that for the purpose of proving a criminal record there’s no need for a court conviction or confession of the applicant – but rather administrative evidence suffices. In contrast, the Supreme Court has also ruled that an indictment that has not yet been heard is not sufficient to establish a “criminal past.” But the same court has also determined that in some cases, even escaping from house arrest and using a forged passport constitute offenses that make it possible to reject an application by a Jewish person to immigrate to Israel.

Will the Lapid-Bennett government capitulate to Western pressure to oust Jewish citizens whose crime begins and ends in working for Putin at the right time and right place to accumulate unimaginable rewards?

Israel’s Foreign Ministry Spokesperson Lior Haiat said his government has formed an inter-ministerial committee to study the sanctions issue, with a major focus on Jewish oligarchs. According to Israeli media, Foreign Minister Yair Lapid said last week at the cabinet meeting: “You have to be very careful because those guys have connections and they can call you on the phone and ask you for things. Don’t commit to anything because it could cause diplomatic damage. Say you can’t help them and give them the number of the Foreign Ministry.”

Also recommended: turn off the lights, shut the curtains, maybe they’ll go away…

 

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David writes news at JewishPress.com.