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Monday, May 23, 2022

Roman Abramovich's jet lands in Israel

It is unclear if the billionaire is on board but his presence in Israel would put the government at odds with the US and EU, even though Abramovich has Israeli citizenship, and is not suspected of any illegal act. His sin is his Russian race. The State of Israel has a special sensitivity to the collective act of confiscating properties and boycott on a racial basis...
At least 14 private jets from Russia landed in Israel in the past 10 days amid the latest round of oligarch The protection of the oligarchs is not a matter of Israel’s government policy but of a local law that has existed since the establishment of the State of Israel.

According to local law, as a Jew, the State of Israel is obligated to provide Abramowitz, just like any other Jew in the world, with full protection from persecution, regardless of what the leader of their country of origin did, good or bad. Israel also provides full protection for Jewish and non-Jewish refugees from Ukraine, so this is not a special treatment for oligarchs but a traditional Jewish principle, formed also by the law, to help in times of need.

Israel -as a state- will not help oligarchs to bypass sanctions, but they will not close their doors.

A worried Israeli government has formed a high-level committee to see how the country can maintain its status as a haven for any Jew without running afoul of the biting sanctions targeting Putin’s inner circle.

In this context, it is important to remember that Israel does not help oligarchs because they are close to Putin. As is well known, the State of Israel has also helped many innocent oligarchs known as Putin's political enemies. For example: Vladimir Dubov, Mikhail Brudno and Leonid Nevzlin.

Several dozen Jewish tycoons from Russia are believed to have taken on Israeli citizenship or residency in recent years. Many have good working relations with the Kremlin, and at least four - Chelsea FC owner Roman Abramovich, Mikhail Fridman, Petr Aven and Viktor Vekselberg - have been sanctioned internationally because of their purported connections to Putin.

The planes reportedly took off from St. Petersburg and landed at Ben Gurion Airport. Israel hasn't issued sanctions yet on oligarchs.

The planes' owners were unidentified and this has led to speculation that oligarchs may be looking at ways to slip around the sanctions.

Sanctions have ramped up against oligarchs amid Russia's invasion of Ukraine, which started on February 24. The US and EU announced on Friday that they were taking further steps to isolate Russia from the global financial system.

The UK, among others, recently sanctioned seven more Russian oligarchs, including Roman Abramovich. Other oligarchs that had previously been sanctioned include Gennady Timchenko, Boris Rotenberg, and Igor Rotenberg.

Tracking data showed the planes made trips from Turkey to Moscow and St. Petersburg and landed in Tel Aviv.

Planes are now limited to a maximum of 48 hours on the ground in the country. Authorities asked Ben Gurion Airport not to approve long-term parking of private jets belonging to US-sanctioned Russians.

Russian oligarch Roman Abramovich's private jet has landed at Ben Gurion airport, after taking off earlier today from Moscow, according to data published on sites that track global aviation. It is not clear if the billionaire himself was on board.

Even though Abramovich has Israeli citizenship, his presence in Israel at the current time could place the Israeli government at odds with the US and EU. Abramovich, who also has Portuguese as well as Russian citizenship, is the focus of international sanctions, because of his close ties with the Kremlin and huge wealth created from companies formerly owned by the Russian government.

Abramovich has real estate assets and investments in Israel and is a major donor to Israeli health, education and other institutions, including Yad Vashem, which has reportedly suspended collaborations with him.

Because of the sanctions imposed on him, Abramovich is unable to enter the UK, where he has spent much of his time over the past 20 years. In Portugal, an investigation has opened against the rabbi of the Porto Jewish community for his involvement in the process that led to Abramovich being granted Portuguese citizenship, due to his supposed Portuguese Jewish heritage.

Abramovich's private jet was, until a few days ago, in Turkey, from where it flew to Moscow on Friday, and now has landed in Israel. Abramovich's private jet is a Gulfstream registered in Luxembourg, under the call name of LX-RAY.

In its sanctions on Abramovich, the UK government said that he has had close relations to Russian President Vladimir Putin for decades. The UK government said that Evraz, the company that Abramovich owns, has been providing huge revenue to the Russian government, which is being used for the war against Ukraine.

Abramovich had estimated wealth of over $15 billion before sanctions were imposed on him. He had been trying to sell Chelsea FC, the English Premier League club that he owns, which he had placed in trust, before the sanctions were imposed on him.

The State of Israel maintains good relations with both Russia and Ukraine, and has no part in the conflict nor the proxy war between Western countries through Ukraine, and Russia. The State of Israel does not share the cause that led to the start of this war (the provocative decision of the NATO countries to place weapons on the border of Ukraine and Russia that endanger Moscow's security) and, obviously, has no part in the horrific acts that the Russian army commits against Ukrainian citizens. Israel has enough of its own conflicts and is probably not looking for more.

Israel, which has emerged as an unlikely mediator between Ukraine and Russia, has not joined the sanctions imposed by the US, Britain, European Union and others. But as the war in Ukraine drags on, and other names are added to the list, the pressure is increasing.

In an interview with Israel’s Channel 12 TV station over the weekend, the US undersecretary of state for political affairs, Victoria Nuland, called on Israel to join the group of countries that have sanctioned Russia.

“What we are asking among other things is for every democracy around the world to join us in the financial and export control sanctions that we have put on Putin,” she said. “You don’t want to become the last haven for dirty money that’s fueling Putin’s wars.”

Aaron David Miller, a now-retired veteran US diplomat, said on Twitter that Nuland's comments were the 'toughest battering of Israeli policy since crisis began or of any policy in very long while."

Israel, founded as a haven for Jews in the wake of the Holocaust, grants automatic citizenship to anyone of Jewish descent. Since the disintegration of the Soviet Union 30 years ago, an estimated 1 million Jews from Russia and other former Soviet republics have moved to Israel. In recent years, a growing number of tycoons from the former Soviet Union have joined them.

Some, such as former energy magnate Leonid Nevzlin, came after falling out with Putin. Others appeared to have done so as hedges against trouble abroad.

Abramovich, for instance, took Israeli citizenship in 2018 after his British visa was not renewed, apparently as part of British authorities’ efforts to crack down on Putin associates after a former Russian spy was poisoned in England.

Although he appears to spend little time in the country, he has bought some choice real estate, including a home in a trendy Tel Aviv neighborhood reportedly purchased from the husband of Wonder Woman actress Gal Gadot.

Some have kept low public profiles, while others have embraced their Jewish roots, emerging as major philanthropists to Jewish causes or investing in Israel’s high-flying technology sector.

Israeli media have reported private jets belonging to oligarchs coming in and out of the country in recent days. Channel 12 said late Sunday that one of Abramovich's planes had arrived, though it was unclear if he was onboard.

While Israel weighs its moves, Jewish organizations already are taking a closer look at their relations with Russian oligarchs.

Last week, Yad Vashem, Israel’s national Holocaust memorial, said it was suspending a reported donation of tens millions of dollars from Abramovich “in light of recent developments.” In Ukraine, the Babyn Yar Holocaust Memorial Center, built at the ravine where over 30,000 Jews were massacred in just two days in 1941, said that Fridman, who was born in Ukraine, had resigned from its advisory board due to the sanctions.

Lior Haiat, spokesman for Israel’s Foreign Ministry, said the government has formed a special inter-ministerial committee to study the sanctions issue. The fate of affected oligarchs is a central part of that mission.

In the meantime, Foreign Minister Yair Lapid has already advised his colleagues to keep their distance from the oligarchs.

“You have to be very careful because those guys have connections and they can call you on the phone and ask you for things,” Lapid recently told the Cabinet. “Don’t commit to anything because it could cause diplomatic damage. Say you can’t help them and give them the number of the Foreign Ministry.”

His comments, first reported in Israeli media, were confirmed by officials who attended the meeting. They spoke on condition of anonymity because they were discussing closed Cabinet proceedings.

Israel, one of the few countries that has good relations with both Russia and Ukraine, may be able to insulate itself from the international pressure as long as it continues to mediate between the warring sides. Joining the sanctions would risk drawing Russian ire and jeopardize Israel's unique role.

Ksenia Svetlova, an international-affairs expert and former Israeli lawmaker born in Russia, said Israel would hold out from taking a stance as long as possible.

“It depends on what kind of pressure they will exercise against Israel,” she said. “Not voluntarily, certainly.”

Israel is not a party to this war. Its policy is not against anyone, but being for everyone.

The Israeli practice of assisting victims of political persecution has been practiced for many years and includes shelter, medical aid and work for thousands of Muslim and Christian refugees from Sudan, Ivory Coast, Ethiopia, Congo, Somalia and Nigeria, Syria and Lebanon.

So it’s a safe haven for Ukrainians as well as Russians, rich or poor.
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