Sanctioning Kantor will hinder British Jewish life

EJC President Moshe Kantor  (Jewish News)
EJC President Moshe Kantor (Jewish News)

When it comes to Vladimir Putin’s barbarous war on Ukraine, Israel has been careful not to ratchet up the rhetoric. Prime Minister Naftali Bennett is among those who have sought to mediate and Israel – wherever possible – is not turning its back on the Russian tycoons who have homes in the country.

Strategically keeping Moscow on side is critical to Israel. But it recognises its responsibilities towards Ukrainian refugees. It understands Jewish communities around the world take pride in the rest of the world’s admiration for Volodymyr Zelensky’s unrelenting courage. 

On my recent visit to northern Israel and the heavily-armed border with Lebanon, a senior Israel Defense Forces  officer made no secret of why the country needs Moscow. Essentially, there is an understanding that the Russian military, which controls the airspace over southern Lebanon and Syria, does not interfere with Israeli operations. The Israeli air force has the freedom to target Iranian-sponsored convoys, moving weaponry and supplies to battle-hardened Hezbollah units embedded in the area. 

Notionally, Putin is Iran’s ‘friend’ in that the country supported its operations in Syria. But he is also philo-Jewish, thanks to his childhood experiences with a Jewish mentor. His friendliness towards Jews also helps to explain why so many of the oligarchs, who helped sponsor the Russian autocrat’s kleptocracy, are Jewish. 

The Nato idea that, by sanctioning individuals with a ‘close’ relationship to Putin, his regime can be brought crashing down is partly displacement activity. The road to economic ruin for Putin’s regime is for the West, mainly the EU and Germany, to curtail Russian energy supplies. Among those caught up in the flurry
of Russian sanctions activity is billionaire Moshe Kantor. As a former leading scientist at the University of Moscow, where he played a key role in Russia’s satellite programme, he earned the trust of Putin and Russia’s elite. 

An open door to the Kremlin has been immensely useful to communities across Europe. Kantor, now a British citizen, has spent countless hours and millions assisting UK philanthropic causes and supporting the Jewish community in Britain and Europe. He finds himself among those ‘Russian’ business people recently sanctioned. His response was to resign as president of the European Jewish Congress (EJC, a constituent of the World Jewish Congress) before going to a home in Israel. 

Kantor, now a British citizen, has spent countless hours and millions assisting UK philanthropic causes and supporting the Jewish community in Britain and Europe.

Kantor’s difficulties ought to be a matter of keen interest for the British Jewish community. The Board of Deputies is a constituent of the EJC, the current Board president, Marie van der Zyl, sits on its council and over the years Kantor has been a regular donor. The former head of the Austrian Jewish community, Dr Ariel Muzicant, has been slotted in as Kantor’s interim replacement. The EJC’s lobbying work at the European Parliament and Commission, where it has become a force to be reckoned with, goes on uninterrupted. 

But there is real concern that Kantor’s key initiative of protecting Jewish communities across the continent for possible terrorist attacks – of the kinds seen in Denmark, Paris and Brussels – may grind to a halt for a lack of funding. Kantor has been personally funding expensive facilities, such as electronic gates. Access to that cash is now frozen.

The displaced EJC boss used his access to Putin to lobby for Jewish causes and was among the few able to bring the Russian leader to Theresienstadt for Holocaust commemoration. 

Like so many rich Russians, he benefitted from the capitalist free-for-all following the breakdown of the old Soviet system and privatisation of public assets that came after. The idea, however, that he somehow directly contributes to Putin’s wicked regime is unproven. 

About the Author
Alex Brummer is the Daily Mail's City Editor