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Israeli groups urge US not to sanction Russian billionaire Roman Abramovich

Russian-Israeli billionaire Roman Abramovich in Moscow, Russia, 19 December [Mikhail Svetlov/Getty Images]
Russian-Israeli billionaire Roman Abramovich in Moscow, Russia on 19 December [Mikhail Svetlov/Getty Images]

Several prominent Israeli institutions and individuals have appealed to the US not to sanction Russian-Israeli billionaire Roman Abramovich.

In a letter to US Ambassador Tom Nides, Yad Vashem – Israel's official Holocaust memorial -the country's chief Ashkenazi Rabbi David Lau and Sheba Medical Center Director Yitshak Kreiss, urged Washington not to sanction Abramovich, who is a major donor to Zionist causes.

Abramovich, who took up Israeli citizenship in 2018 after failing to extend his visa to the UK, has donated almost $102 million to a far-right Israeli settler organisation which displaces Palestinian families from occupied East Jerusalem. His total donation to Israeli causes however is said to be more than $500 million. The oligarch has also purchased at least three properties in Israel, one worth 64.5 million.

The letter said sanctioning Abramovich would cause harm to Israeli institutions that rely on him for donations. Yad Vashem Chairman Dani Dayan added that Abramovich was the museum's second-largest private donor, after the late Sheldon Adelson and his widow, Miriam.

Abramovich made a multi-million-dollar donation to the Yad Vashem Holocaust Memorial Museum, the museum announced last month, calling it "a new long-term strategic partnership."

"We are deeply grateful to Roman Abramovich for this generous contribution that will significantly strengthen Yad Vashem's mission," Dayan said.

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In a column in Haaretz newspaper, Israeli writer Noa Landau described the letter as "embarrassing." Landau also criticised Yad Vashem for facilitating what she called "Shoah-washing" by inviting figures such as the right-wing leader of Hungary, Viktor Orban, to visit the museum as part of the Israeli political push against Palestinians and Iranians, despite accusation of anti-Semitism against Orban.

Abramovich has been walking a diplomatic tightrope since the Russian invasion of Ukraine. The West has responded by imposing sanctions on Russian President Vladimir Putin, members of his inner circle and Russian Oligarchs close to him.

The decision by Israeli institutions to come to Abramovich's aid also underscores the diplomatic tightrope walked by the occupation state. Though Israeli officials have criticised Russian invasion of Ukraine, they have refused several requests for help from Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky, including for the transfer of military equipment.

Ukraine's Ambassador to Tel Aviv, Yevgeny Kornichuk, said he was "disappointed" that Israel was not accepting all refugees from the war in his country. The racist practices of the state of Israel also became a source of anger and frustration for Ukrainian officials. While the occupation state has opened its doors to Ukrainian Jews, it has not been so welcoming to non-Jews fleeing the war.

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