Roman Abramovich has always embraced his Jewish heritage, says David Klion in Jewish Currents. The 55-year-old oligarch has given a whopping half a billion dollars to Jewish charities over the past two decades, “sending money linked to Putin’s kleptocratic regime circulating through Jewish institutions worldwide”. He’s fond of Israel too. He became a citizen in 2018; donated $30m for a nanotechnology research centre at Tel Aviv University; funded a football programme for Arab and Jewish children; planted trees in Israeli deserts; and spent $65m on a mansion in Herzliya, the most expensive real estate deal in the country’s history.
Now he’s upping the ante. “Given his increasingly precarious geopolitical position, Jewishness has become Abramovich’s identity of last resort.” Two days before Putin invaded Ukraine, the oligarch donated tens of millions of dollars to Yad Vashem, the Holocaust remembrance centre in Jerusalem. “Perhaps not coincidentally,” Yad Vashem’s chairman recently signed a letter to the US ambassador to Israel, urging America not to sanction Abramovich. The Israeli government has been suitably vague when it comes to Russia, and Abramovich too. When Israeli PM Naftali Bennett spoke about the invasion, he didn’t mention Russia directly – instead he simply called for an end to “bloodshed”. For now, the oligarch seems to have lucked out. I wonder how long it will last. “As Putin’s war continues to escalate, it remains to be seen where the Jewish world will draw its line.”