Competition in Jewish world heats up

New Jewish group founded by Russian-born businessman seeks place in Diaspora politics.

Officials fix mezuza for new office (photo credit: Itzik Biran)
Officials fix mezuza for new office
(photo credit: Itzik Biran)
The world of Jewish organizations founded and funded by wealthy businessman from the former Soviet Union just got bigger.
At a party held on the 41st floor of a new high-rise building overlooking Tel Aviv, financier and former Russian parliamentarian Vladimir Sloutsker launched the Israeli Jewish Congress on Sunday, a group he said would help foster ties between Israel and the Diaspora.
“We have a number of projects but the most interesting thing is that the European community is thirsty for Israeli contact,” said the softly spoken businessman who made aliya from Russia with his family last year. “They simply have a lack of contacts.
Our purpose was to create such a partner, so we are establishing ties.”
Asked to elaborate, Sloutsker said his outfit was still forming its agenda. But ICJ’s CEO Michel Gourary, an old hand in European Jewish politics, laid out two targets.
“We are trying to lobby the Knesset to pass a law that will have the government pay for the burial in Israel of victims of terror attacks that took place overseas,” he said.
“The other initiative is to get more European countries, like Greece, to pass a law forbidding the denial of the Holocaust.”
The upscale gathering, which featured a string quartet playing Vivaldi’s Four Seasons and waiters serving sushi and kebabs, was attended by Public Diplomacy and Diaspora Affairs Minister Yuli Edelstein and Vice Premier Silvan Shalom.
“I think Sloutsker’s decision is important,” Shalom said. “His will to contribute is proven and I welcome his decision to create this forum. I want to be a part of it.”
Sloutsker, who was a member of Russia’s Senate between 2002 and 2010, has been involved in Jewish politics and philanthropy for more than a decade. He was formerly part of the Russian Jewish Congress and later the vice president of the European Jewish Congress, a group now headed by Russian-born businessman Moshe Kantor. Asked if there was overlap between his new organization and the EJC, which is also dedicated to building bridges between Israel and Europe, Sloutsker said he was interested in cooperation, not competition.
The EJC did not respond to an inquiry about the ICJ on Wednesday. The ICJ is the latest in a list of organizations formed by rich Jewish businessman from the former Soviet Union. Earlier this year, Ukrainian real estate magnate Alexander Levine founded the World Forum of Russian Jewry in New York. Last year Ukrainian businessmen Igor Kolomoisky and Vadim Rabinovich jointly launched the European Jewish Union. It joined the likes of the aforementioned EJC and the Euro-Asian Jewish Congress, also led by affluent businessmen from the FSU.
Despite the abundance of Jewish groups, Sloutsker said he thought there was a real need for the ICJ. Shia Segal, one of his advisers, said his boss held talks with World Jewish Congress officials in New York last week in a bid to have his organization become an affiliate.
“It’s too early to tell what will come of it,” he said. “In any case right now [Sloutsker] is more interested in the ICJ’s content than anything else.”
Jewish organizations dependent on the generosity of a single businessman are often set up to much fanfare but die quiet deaths.
The Euro-Asian Jewish Congress, for instance, has become largely dormant since its patron Alexander Machkevitch quit last summer. But Sloutsker vowed he was here for the long run.
“I am here to stay and try my best to create a better future for Israel,” he said.