Grapevine March 6, 2022: Feeling the pinch

Movers and shakers in Israeli society.

 Herzog and Abramovich (photo credit: KOBI GIDON)
Herzog and Abramovich
(photo credit: KOBI GIDON)

One of the wealthiest and most charitable of Russian oligarchs is Roman Abramovich, who for whatever reason was initially excluded from the economic sanctions imposed on other Russian oligarchs.

However, due to questions put to British Prime Minister Boris Johnson about why Abramovich is permitted to own a soccer club and properties in Britain, he has reluctantly decided to sell the Chelsea Football Club, which he purchased in 2003, and whose fortunes he turned around. The Chelsea Football Club has spearheaded the struggle against antisemitism and other forms of racism.

Abramovich has instructed the club’s board to create a charitable foundation that will handle the proceeds of the sale, which are earmarked to aid all victims of the war in Ukraine.

There is one problem in relation to Abramovich. He is very close to Russian President Vladimir Putin, and as is so often the case, his detractors have swept all his good deeds under the carpet because of that connection. In Israel, when leading politicians are indicted and convicted, their detractors cast a blind eye to all that they have done for the benefit of the state and society.

Abramovich, who has Israeli citizenship, and who lives in Israel, has donated millions of dollars to medical, scientific, and academic enterprises, most recently to Yad Vashem. He was the golden boy of the Jewish world until the Russian invasion of Ukraine, after which he was suddenly guilty by association. KAN 11, which reran a British documentary series on Putin, in its promos kept featuring scenes of Abramovich with Putin.

Early last month, Yad Vashem chairman Dani Dayan, former chief Rabbi Yisrael Meir Lau, who is chairman of the Yad Vashem Council, Prof. Yitshak Kreiss, the director-general of Sheba Medical Center, along with representatives of other major Israeli institutions, wrote a letter to US Ambassador Tom Nides urging that the US refrain from imposing economic sanctions on Abramovich because to sanction him would have a negative impact on numerous charities that rely on him for ongoing support.

Meanwhile, Abramovich has traveled to Belarus to try to help in brokering peace talks between Russia and Ukraine.On Thursday of this week, Dayan, in an interview on KAN Reshet Bet, defended Abramovich and said that he was no different from the person who received so much adulation prior to the Russian invasion of Ukraine and that Yad Vashem would continue to regard him as a friend.

Several people have urged Yad Vashem not to accept Abramovich’s multimillion-dollar support. Dayan said that while he would not accept a donation from a known criminal, there was no reason for rejecting Abramovich.

The question remains whether the new owner of Chelsea FC will continue the club’s battle against antisemitism, racism, and xenophobia. It would be wonderful if Abramovich would buy Jerusalem’s problematic Beitar soccer club and get rid of its racist element. A previous owner, Arcadi Gaydamak, tried to do this by introducing Muslim players, but he failed, and they left soon after their arrival.

■ AMONG FOREIGN dignitaries who visited Israel last week were Britain’s Science, Research and Innovation Minister George Freeman, who was on his first visit to familiarize himself with various aspects of Israel’s research and innovation projects in the fields of biopharma, biotechnology, agritech, and space exploration.

Freeman was accompanied on his tour of meetings by British Ambassador Neil Wigan, who went with him to Tel Aviv University, the Weizmann Institute, the Hebrew University, and the Israel Space Agency, among others. Freeman was impressed by what he saw and heard and tweeted after his visit to the Hebrew University that the Albert Einstein Archives was inspiring.

Incidentally, the British Embassy, like the French Embassy, flew the Ukrainian flag, as did the Polish Embassy. The Romanian Cultural Center in Tel Aviv printed its March schedule in blocks of blue and yellow, and the Czech Embassy screened a benefit concert for Ukraine that took place in Prague’s Wenceslas Square. The announcement of the concert was followed by a facsimile of the Ukrainian flag superimposed by two hands in which the fingers and thumbs formed the shape of a heart.

■ THE OLD saying that what goes around comes around may well apply to the Jewish Agency, which last week yet again failed to elect a permanent chairman, leaving World Zionist Organization chairman Yaakov Hagoel as interim chairman for at least another few months. But in Israel, more than in most other places, anything temporary eventually becomes permanent, unless someone cares enough to make a fuss and upset the apple cart.

Several of Hagoel’s predecessors in office, among them Aryeh Louis Pincus, Simcha Dinitz, Avraham Burg, Sallai Meridor and Ze’ev Bielski, held both positions concurrently.

It would seem that Hagoel wants to turn back the clock to the time when this was the norm – although neither Natan Sharansky nor Isaac Herzog held both positions.If the clock is being turned back in this particular area, why not in the presidency of the state? Herzog’s late father, Chaim Herzog, was the last president to complete two five-year terms.

Ezer Weizman, who succeeded him, was two years into his second term when his fiscal improprieties became public knowledge. He was given the option of being indicted or stepping down. He chose the second option, after which the law relating to the term of service of the president was changed to one seven-year term.

But Isaac Herzog, in the first few months in his current role, proved to be a valuable diplomatic asset, so its quite possible that some of his admirers, who would like to see him in office for 10 years instead of seven, might propose a bill to revert the law relating to the president to its previous status.

In Israel, anything is possible – especially things that not so long ago were regarded as impossible. That’s not a new concept. Vera Weizmann, the wife of Israel’s first president Chaim Weizmann, wrote a book titled The Impossible takes Longer.

■ ARE POLITICS part of anyone’s DNA? A glimpse at the Knesset website would indicate that they might be. Aside from parents and sons or daughters such as the three-generation Dayan family, the Begins, Meridors, Olmert's, Rabins, Sharon's, Herzogs, and others, there are also cousins of some of these families – so it’s highly possible.

In the case of former MK Michal Cotler-Wunsch, her father Irwin Cotler was an eminent politician in Canada; and in the case of former prime minister and defense minister Ehud Barak, there’s also an international connection. His cousin David Brog, a staunch Republican, last month announced that he is a Congressional candidate.

(Barak’s original surname was Brog, and it’s the name his brother goes by). The American Brog receives much of his funding from Miriam Adelson, who continues the huge support that her late husband Sheldon Adelson gave to Republican candidates. Brog has for many years been the executive director of Christians United for Israel, and since 2015, has been heavily involved with the not-for-profit Maccabee Task Force which combats antisemitism on campus. Maccabee Task Force was largely funded by the Adelsons.

■ SEVERAL ORGANIZATIONS and institutions are holding International Women’s Day events this week, including various embassies. In the majority of cases, these events will feature Israeli women achievers in diverse fields of endeavor. But the Norwegian Embassy will feature Norway’s most high-ranking female soldier, Major General Kristin Lund, who was the first female officer in the Norwegian Army to be promoted to her rank.

In 2014, Ban Ki-moon, who was then United Nations Secretary-General, announced her appointment as Force Commander for the United Nations Peacekeeping Force in Cyprus, thereby making her the highest-ranking female commander in the United Nations.

She has since overseen peacekeeping missions all over the world and is currently head UN military observer for the United Nations Truce Supervision Organization monitoring the ceasefire between Israel and Egypt, Jordan, Lebanon and Syria. She is the first woman to lead the mission since its formation in 1948.

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