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Robert Festenstein

This time, not about the Jews

Sometimes, I come across something which I should have known about at the time but for no reason just didn’t. Moshe Kantor is just one example of this.

Let’s start with something I did know about, the Russian attack on Ukraine in the early part of last year. Like most people I was appalled and not a little anxious at this alarming development. I have been watching the growth of right-wing populist leaders in central and eastern Europe with concern and in particular the way in which each of them have been attempting to re-write history for their respective countries. Poland and Hungary are examples of this, and also Russia. I did not expect that Russia would go to war though I was not surprised given their annexation of the Crimea.

It also came as no surprise that the West generally responded in various ways, one of which was to impose sanctions on Russian billionaires who had close ties with Russia and its leader. I remember reading about Roman Abramovich but did not pick up on Moshe Kantor, who at the time of the sanctions being imposed in April 2022 was President of the European Jewish Congress. What has piqued my interest now in him is an open letter written by his successor Mr Ariel Muzicant to President Macron on the 4th August to Le Point, a French weekly political and news magazine published in Paris.

In his letter Mr Muzicant asserts that “The decision to sanction Moshe Kantor, the only Jewish leader to have been democratically elected to this position on several occasions, is incomprehensible and does nothing to further the fundamental objectives pursued by Europe in the face of this war. Above all, it is profoundly unjust because the targeting of this Jewish leader, who has been the voice and support of Europe’s Jewish communities for almost twenty years, directly affects Jewish organizations, communities and life on the European continent.”

He goes on to say: “The collateral damage [of sanctions against Moshe Kantor] affects the many programs that he personally launched and directed. It affects the well-being and safety of our communities. They sow confusion among us and paralyze our action.

This action is destroying Jewish life in Europe. Without Dr. Kantor’s support and impetus, dozens of projects would have had to be halted, particularly in the field of security.”

What concerned me was the suggestion that the sanctions against him were in some way motivated by the fact he is not only Jewish, but was also a significant communal leader. If that was the case, then it would indeed be very worrying indeed.

So I looked a little deeper into Moshe Kantor and in particular the published reasons set out in the UK Government website. An extract from those reasons is here:

“Viacheslav KANTOR, hereafter KANTOR, is a prominent Russian businessman associated with Vladimir Putin. KANTOR is the Chairman of the Coordinating Board of PJSC ‘Acron’ and its largest shareholder. Acron is a Russian chemical, mineral and fertilizer producer which carries on business in a sector of strategic significance to the Government of Russia, namely the Russian chemicals and extractives sectors. KANTOR therefore owns or controls directly or indirectly and/or works as a director (whether executive or non-executive) trustee, or equivalent of a person other than an individual carrying on business of economic significance to the Government of Russian in sectors of strategic significance to the Government of Russia. Hence KANTOR is involved in gaining a benefit from or supporting the Government of Russia, whose actions are destabilizing Ukraine or undermining or destabilizing Ukraine or undermining or threatening the territorial integrity, sovereignty or independence of Ukraine.”

I had not heard of Acron. It turns out (according to Wikipedia) that it produces chemicals and fertilizers at two factories in Russia, employs about 11,500 people and has assets of over $3 billion. Moshe Kantor is its largest shareholder. So, now I understood, the sanctions part at least. What I have also grasped is that the sanctions do not appear to be anything to do at all with the fact that he is Jewish or holds (or held) various prominent positions in the European Jewish community.

I read again the letter from Mr Muzicant and what interested me was what it didn’t say. There is no mention of Russian atrocities against Ukrainian civilians, nothing about the conduct of the war and nothing about Mr. Kantor’s protests against the war, if indeed there are any. There is no doubt that the cutting off of the source of millions of Euros to the EJC is very bad news. What is odd though is that there is no reference in Mr Muzicant’s letter to efforts to try and replace Mr Kantor’s donations, just an overall claim in his letter that the sanctions are just not fair.

I have read and re-read Mr Muzicant’s letter and there is nothing to rebut the claim that Moshe Kantor is close to President Putin, nothing to explain that the chemical and fertilizer factories in Russia have nothing to do with the Russian war effort and crucially nothing to connect the sanctions against Mr Kantor as having anything to do with the fact he is Jewish. It seems to me that what has upset Mr Muzicant is the loss of the money from Moshe Kantor, and well it might. It is always hard when a substantial donor stops making contributions. I do think that trying to draw some connection between the sanctions and the various European Jewish communities is very many steps too far. Better in my view to leave that assertion well alone and concentrate on fund raising.

About the Author
Robert Festenstein is a solicitor based in Manchester with considerable experience in Court actions. He is active in fighting the increase in anti-Semitism in the UK and is President of the Zionist Central Council, an organisation devoted to promoting and defending the democratic State of Israel.
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