In the 1990s, when Boris Yeltsin began privatizing vast swaths of Russia’s industrial output, he essentially permitted a group of thuggish entrepreneurs to purchase these state assets for a pittance. They in turn, turned their companies into behemoths with a guaranteed monopoly, thus allowing them to become vastly wealthy oligarchs in the process. They were aided in the process by the political elite, like Vladimir Putin, who both profited from their wealth and commanded their fealty when collaboration was necessary to pursue his interests. A particular group of these oligarchs was Jewish. Among them were Mikhail Fridman, German Khan, Leonid Nevzlin, Yuri Milner, Viktor Vekselberg, Len Blavatnik, Boris Berezovsky, Arkady Gadaymak, Lev Leviev and, most successful of all, Roman Abramovich.
After they consolidated control of their respective industries and amassed fantastic wealth, they turned their attention to burnishing their reputation. Or put another way, to whitewash all their rapacious piracy with good deeds. They charity-washed themselves by investing in liberal Zionist news media (Blavatnik/Haaretz). Or they bought premier football clubs to showcase their beneficence to sports fans of the UK (Abramovich), Israel (Gadaymak). Or they created medical school institutes in their name (Blavatnik again/Harvard Medical School).
In return for state authorities winking at their predatory behavior, Putin will often call in favors. For example, in the 2016 U.S. elections, Vekselberg, Oleg Depraska (another non-Jewish oligarch) and others made illegal donations to the Trump campaign, making similar payments to Trump capo, Michael Cohen.
Abramovich was known to be close to former Russian oligarch, Lev Leviev, who underwent a series of major financial reverses ending with charges of diamond smuggling which led him to flee his posh London digs for Russia. He’s not been heard from since; which is not surprising considering he’s wanted for questioning by Israeli police and Scotland Yard.
Leviev was particularly close to Chabad and one of its most generous donors–when he was flush. His jewelry business was known for costuming Hollywood and Broadway stars with lavish diamonds. His Israel Africa real estate company also built settlements in the Occupied Territories. Leviev, known for his right-wing politics, might have facilitated Abramovich’s interest in supporting the settlement enterprise.
A Congressional investigation of Russian interference in the 2016 U. S. election turned up a vast trove of documents about figures who played key roles. They were given to Buzzfeed, which shared them with the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists. The Israeli reporter associated with the Consortium is Uri Blau, who broke the Elad-Abromovich part of the story in Haaretz. He also collaborated on the BBC report.
The documents are banking reports of suspicious account holder transactions filed under a regulation called FINCEN. Through them, Blau learned that Abramovich was the largest single donor to the Israeli settler ethnic-cleansing enterprise run by Elad. He donated $110-million over a fifteen-year period, which amounted to half the total donations the organization raised.
Abramovich, who also owns the Chelsea Football Club, is worth an estimated $13-billion. The Jewish Chronicle estimates he has given about $3-billion to charity “over the years” including $600-million to Jewish causes. He became an Israeli citizen in 2018. Considering his charitable giving was over an extended period of possibly two decades or more, this is not an especially impressive record.
Abramovich began his business career in exceedingly modest circumstances:
[He began by] selling imported rubber ducks, retreading tires – but he subsequently set off on a path that many other oligarchs followed.
In 1995, with the help of Moscow-born Jewish tycoon Boris Berezovsky and his Jewish-Georgian partner, businessman and politician Badri Patarkatsishvili, Abramovich acquired the controlling interest in Sibneft, one of Russia’s largest oil companies. According to associates, he did that in stages: At first he gave the Russian government a $100 million loan in exchange for shares, and later went on to buy the entire company by winning a series of tenders.
…Over the years, Abramovich entered Russia’s aluminum market, characterized at the time by fierce competition over control of the profitable mines.
The FINCEN reports were filed by Deutsche Bank, which apparently provided banking services for the Abramovich offshore accounts, and transferred the funds to the Israeli group. News reports say that $1.3-billion in suspicious transactions were uncovered for a single Dutch bank. For a guy worth $12-billion, that’s a considerable portion of his wealth. It’s worth noting that this is the same bank which loaned Donald Trump hundreds of millions to finance his real estate holdings.
Returning to Elad, it is a shady outfit which steals Palestinian homes in East Jerusalem through legal subterfuge and evicts tenants and replaces them with nice kosher Jewish families. It also sponsors archaeological digs designed to “prove” historical Israeli Jewish claims to full sovereignty over Jerusalem. It also builds slick tourist magnets designed to promote “heritage tourism,” bringing Jews and evangelicals to museum-style exhibitions touting these same supposed historical claims. Elad’s goal is to completely eliminate a Palestinian presence in Jerusalem.
It is exceedingly well-financed through tax deductible contributions made by wealthy Diaspora Jews like Abramovich. In 2018, Elad spent $30-million on its activities. Its U.S. non-profit affiliate, Friends of Ir David, raised $4-million in that year. The charity has real estate holdings worth nearly $100-million, of which $35-million is properties maintained for Jewish settlers. During the fifteen-year period covered by the banking reports, Elad doubled the number of settlers living in East Jerusalem and increased the number of tourists visiting its “heritage sites” by almost three times.
Abramovich donated $110-million to Elad through a murky web of four offshore entities registered in the Virgin Islands. This in turn financed the group’s fraudulent “purchases” of Palestinian homes, lawsuits designed to secure properties from Palestinians, the resettlement of Jewish settlers in them, and security necessary to protect the settlers living amidst tens of thousands of hostile Palestinians.
Abramovich is not alone among Russian oligarchs in supporting right-wing Israeli causes. But his wealth dwarfs that of most others in his class, and so this development especially resonates.