Yad Vashem, chief rabbi urged US not to sanction Roman Abramovich

Holocaust museum, others sent Feb. 6 letter to US envoy saying action against billionaire philanthropist over expected Russian invasion would negatively impact Israel, Jewish world

Chelsea owner Roman Abramovich holding a banner saying 'Say No to Antisemitism' in honor of International Holocaust Remembrance Day, January 2021. (Courtesy: Chelsea FC/President Rivlin/GPO)
Chelsea owner Roman Abramovich holding a banner saying 'Say No to Antisemitism' in honor of International Holocaust Remembrance Day, January 2021. (Courtesy: Chelsea FC/President Rivlin/GPO)

Before Russia launched its invasion of Ukraine, the chairman of the Yad Vashem Holocaust Memorial Museum, the Ashkenazi chief rabbi of Israel, and representatives of several other major Israeli organizations and charities wrote to the US ambassador to Israel, urging Washington not to impose sanctions on Russian-Israeli billionaire Roman Abramovich as part of any financial measures to punish the expected move by Moscow, Channel 12 news reported Saturday.

The signatories, including Yad Vashem’s Dani Dayan, Chief Rabbi David Lau, and Sheba Medical Center director-general Prof. Yitshak Kreiss, said such a measure would both be unfair and negatively impact Israel and the Jewish world.

They lauded Abramovich’s investments, philanthropy, and significant contributions to Israel.

The letter, sent to US Ambassador to Israel Tom Nides, is dated February 6, days after reports emerged that the US and others were preparing a list of targets for economic sanction should Russia invade Ukraine.

The US declined to comment on the letter.

Imposed since Russia began its assault on Ukraine on Thursday, US-led sanctions have excluded most of the top names on Forbes’ list of the richest Russians, like Abramovich, whose multi-billion-dollar fortunes are now largely intertwined with the West.

Firefighters work by a high-rise apartment block, which was hit by recent shelling in Kyiv, on February 26, 2022. (Genya Savilov/AFP)

The billionaire is one of Russia’s highest-profile oligarchs and has been highlighted in the past for links to President Vladimir Putin, who is being ostracized globally for launching the unprovoked attack on a neighbor.

Last week, Yad Vashem’s Dayan announced that Abramovich had made a multi-million shekel donation “that will significantly strengthen Yad Vashem’s mission.”

The announcement came just over two weeks after the letter was reportedly sent to Nides.

Yad Vashem’s spokesman did not give the exact sum donated by Abramovich, but said that it is “an eight-figure donation.”

“With this contribution, Roman Abramovich will become the second-largest private donor to Yad Vashem, after Miri and Sheldon Adelson,” he said.

Abramovich is also funding the creation of two new versions of Yad Vashem’s Book of Names, in which the museum had detailed the collected names of more than 4,800,000 Jewish men, women, and children who were murdered by the Nazis.

In 2018 the oligarch immigrated to Israel, instantly becoming one of the country’s richest people, with an estimated wealth of some $14 billion. The move came after he was unable to extend his visa in the UK amid a diplomatic spat between London and Moscow.

Abramovich is said to have donated more than $500 million in recent years to Israeli and Jewish causes, including some $100 million to fund the right-wing, pro-settlement Elad organization, which runs archaeological digs and sites in East Jerusalem and controversially buys properties in Palestinian areas to increase the Jewish presence there.

Abramovich symbolically diminished his status as owner of the UK soccer team Chelsea by appearing to take himself out of the decision-making process on Saturday after facing calls to completely give up control of the Premier League club following Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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