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Russia-Ukraine war: Israeli figures 'appealed to US' not to sanction Roman Abramovich

Following reports that US was assembling a sanctions list before Russia invaded Ukraine, Israeli figures wrote to the US ambassador urging him not to sanction the Russian billionaire
Chelsea's Russian owner Roman Abramovich waves during the English Premier League football match at Stamford Bridge in London, 8 May 2017 (AFP)
Chelsea's Russian owner Roman Abramovich waves during the English Premier League football match at Stamford Bridge in London, 8 May 2017 (AFP)

Israel's Holocaust Memorial Museum and several influential figures have asked the US ambassador not to sanction Israeli-Russian billionaire Roman Abramovich prior to Moscow's invasion of Ukraine on Thursday, Israeli media reported this week.

Dani Dayan, the chairman of Yad Vashem, and other public figures, including Chief Rabbi David Lau and Yitshak Kreiss, the director of Sheba Medical Center, wrote to the US ambassador in Israel, Tom Nides, urging Washington not to sanction Abramovich.

The letter to Nides was dated 6 February, a few weeks before Russia's invasion of Ukraine, following reports that the US was assembling a list of figures and enterprises to be sanctioned if Russia attacked Ukraine, according to the Times of Israel.

The letter to Nides said that sanctioning Abramovich "would be both unfair and would negatively impact Israel and the Jewish world".

On 23 February, the day before Russia invaded Ukraine, Dayan announced that Abramovich had made an eight-figure donation to Yad Vashem, amounting to millions of shekels, that "will significantly strengthen Yad Vashem's mission".

“This partnership highlights his continued dedication to Holocaust remembrance and combating antisemitism, and buttresses Yad Vashem’s determination to remain the gatekeeper of accurate, fact-based memory of the Shoah,” Dayan said.

Abramovich became the second-largest donor to Yad Vashem after the Jewish American billionaires Miri and Sheldon Adelson. The exact size of his donation was not revealed.

Funding pro-settlement groups 

Israeli political analyst Noa Landau said in a column in Haaretz newspaper on Tuesday that Yad Vashem's appeal to the US was "embarrassing".

"[This] casts a heavy shadow not only over the donation of tens of millions of dollars that Yad Vashem received from [Abramovich] recently, but over the whole system of generations of schnorring by Israel’s primary Holocaust museum and memorial," Landau wrote.

Landau also criticised Yad Vashem for facilitating "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 antisemitism against Orban. 

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Abramovich has been under the spotlight as western countries imposed sanctions on several Russian companies and billionaires, accused of having close ties to Moscow's government and President Vladimir Putin. 

He announced on Saturday that he is handing over the stewardship of UK football club Chelsea, which he owns, to trustees.

On Monday, the billionaire's spokesperson claimed that he was asked by Ukraine to mediate peace talks with Russia.  

In 2018, amid diplomatic tension between Moscow and London, Abramovich was unable to extend his visa in the UK and moved to Tel Aviv where he become an Israeli citizen.  

The Times of Israel reported that Abramovich had donated a total of almost $500m to Israeli and Jewish causes in recent years, including to Elad Foundation, a pro-settler far-right movement that aims to evict Palestinians from their homes in occupied East Jerusalem to make way for Israeli settlers to move in.

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