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Ed Webb

The Post-WWI Migrations That Built Yugoslavia and Turkey Have Left a Painful Legacy - New Lines Magazine - 0 views

  • the religious, ethnic and linguistic diversity that characterized their territories in the Middle East and Eastern Europe no longer chimed with the new world order being organized around nation-states
  • Designing measures such as the Greek-Turkish population exchange of 1923, the League of Nations legitimized demographic engineering policies and made migration an intrinsic part of nation-building. With international encouragement, the states with Muslim minorities in the Balkans devised multipronged policies to push out the citizens they saw as undesirable. Turkey became the only destination for Balkan Muslims, even when they were not Turkish.
  • in 1938 Belgrade and Ankara concluded a little-known agreement to transfer 200,000 Yugoslav citizens to Turkey. The transfer did not materialize because of the start of World War II, but the migrations did eventually take place and continued into the 1950s. For both Yugoslavia and Turkey, new states created in the aftermath of World War I, migration was an important part of nation-building.
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  • In the 1920s, Catholic missionaries working in neighboring Kosovo, a former Ottoman province inhabited by Albanian Muslim and Christian populations and similarly incorporated into Southern Serbia, sent reports of massacres, assassinations, imprisonment and forced labor in a memorandum to the League of Nations, receiving no response.
  • Forced processes of homogenization are still part of the repertoire of nation-state building, and continue to shape our understanding of world order. Muslim presence in the southeastern periphery of Europe likewise continues to be viewed as problematic and even dangerous: As Piro Rexhepi observed in the book “White Enclosures,” their integration continues to be desirable for security but impossible racially.
  • Focus on religious identity allowed for a formal incorporation of these rather diverse populations into the Turkish national body. The asylum policy and the settlement laws defined migrants as Turks and those “affiliated with Turkish culture” to encompass all the Slav, Albanian and Greek Muslims, making Turkey­­ a safe haven for Muslim minorities fleeing oppressive regimes.
  • Dispossession, expulsions and massacres of diverse Muslim populations were already a grim reality of nation-building in southeastern Europe in the 19th century, when Greece, Montenegro, Serbia, Romania and Bulgaria were carved out of Ottoman provinces. In fact, the conquests of Ottoman Europe after 1699 normalized expulsion and compulsory conversion of local Muslims in the lost territories
  • During the Balkan Wars (1912-1913) Serbia, Montenegro, Greece and Bulgaria invaded the remaining Ottoman territories in Europe. Within several months, an estimated 1 million Muslims vanished, murdered and expelled from the regions taken over by these states. The shocking magnitude of the violence, which continued into World War I, made many Muslims wary of their future in the new nation-states and incited migration to the Ottoman Empire, itself in the midst of conflict.
  • 19th-century definitions of South Slavic brotherhood envisioned Slav Muslims as potentially assimilable, distinguishing between “the Turks” as the non-Slavic Ottomans and “our Turks,” that is, Slav Muslims
  • took as its model another such deal between Turkey and Romania in 1936 as well as the better-known Greek-Turkish population exchange of 1923
  • so-called reform also included the vast properties of the Islamic pious endowments. Schools, mosques and Sufi lodges lost the land and incomes that were used to operate educational, religious and community services. Some land appropriations were symbolic: The 15th-century Burmali Mosque that visually defined Skopje’s main thoroughfare was simply torn down
  • Ivo Andric, an admired novelist and Yugoslav Nobel laureate, was also one of the highest-ranking Yugoslav diplomats in the interwar period. Eager to finalize the population transfer agreement with Turkey, he advised the government in Belgrade that Turkey was not only interested in the small group of ethnic Turks in Yugoslavia but also populations akin to Turks in their “mentality.” Repeating a constant theme in almost all of Andric’s novels, Muslims were described in his diplomatic correspondence as alien to the Balkans. For Andric, they were “Turks leftover in the territories of our Kingdom.”
  • over 2,000 Bosnians were settled along with Greek Muslims in the town of Izmir.
  • Turkish officials, faced with the constant influx of migrants, pursued agreements with the Balkan states that would offset the costs of migrant settlement. The 1934 Balkan Pact included minority clauses that allowed Turkish citizens to sell their properties in their former homelands. Turkish administrators also considered requesting an estimated payment from the Balkan nation-states to match the value of the properties that Balkan Muslims were forced to leave behind.
  • The Turkish Republic saw population growth as beneficial for economic development and national defense in the long term, as it worked to populate its eastern and western borderlands. Moreover, many of Turkey’s early administrators, as migrants and children of migrants themselves, understood these new waves of migration from a personal perspective.
  • Laws barred those speaking languages other than Turkish from settling in groups and limited the “foreign” presence to no more than 10% of a municipality, though the realities of the period frequently made these laws impossible to execute. The locals took on much of the burden of helping newcomers, begrudgingly sharing public resources. At the same time, the immigrants provided necessary manpower and introduced new methods in agriculture and certain industries. While Balkan languages largely disappeared with the following generation, enduring legacies, such as Balkan cuisine and music evoking the most personal memories of exile, acquired a place in the Turkish national heritage.
  • Today, no official recognition of the violent policies of “unmixing” exists, and barely anyone has heard of Yugoslavia’s attempted population transfer of 1939.
  • the international community’s preferred solutions to “ethnic conflicts” in Bosnia-Herzegovina and Kosovo remain equally tied to principles of nationalist homogenization and demarcation. A century after the foundation of modern Turkey and the first Yugoslavia, the legacies of that era’s mass migration and state violence persist.
Ed Webb

The 'Conscious Uncoupling' of Wahhabism and Saudi Arabia - New Lines Magazine - 0 views

  • unprecedented statements and moves made by the crown prince, Mohammed bin Salman, or MBS, involving the role of Wahhabism in the country, from restraining the clerics to announcing initiatives to revise and update religious texts
  • Wahhabism’s decline as a movement has been many years in the making, and this has something to do with the political shift pushed by Bin Salman — but only to a certain degree. The decline preceded him and would have happened without these political changes, if not at the same speed or so quietly. This distinction matters, because it means that other factors contributed to the waning power of Wahhabism both in the kingdom and in the wider region, and it is this internal decay and the surrounding environment that make Wahhabism’s current troubles deep and permanent.
  • the decline of Wahhabism was primarily an unintended (and ironic) consequence of the Saudi leadership’s fight against hostile Islamist and jihadist forces in the country
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  • With Wahhabism, the only undeniably native Islamist ideology, he followed a different and incremental approach of pacifying and neutralizing the doctrine. His campaign started with hints and intensified over time until the unequivocal proclamation in 2021 that the kingdom should not be wedded to one person or ideology.
  • Juhayman al-Otaybi’s seizure of the mosque in 1979 was ended, but it was not without a lasting effect on politics. The new rebellion alarmed then-King Khalid bin Abdulaziz and led him to appease the clerical establishment and establish conservative practices, often at the expense of decades-old attempts at modernization with the advent of oil revenue. (Other geopolitical events, such as the Iranian revolution and the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan in 1979, equally contributed to the new policy.) It also meant that the kingdom had largely tolerated both Wahhabi and Islamist activists, especially throughout the 1980s.
  • Wahhabism started to face internal and external challenges with the increased involvement of jihadist ideologies in regional wars, the rise of satellite channels as well as technology and the youth bulge in the late 1990s and early 2000s. Before that, Wahhabis benefited from the simplicity, purity and unity of their message: return to the early generations of Islam and tawhid (monotheism). Wahhabism thrived when it was able to channel all its energy — with near-limitless resources — against the trinity of what it labeled polytheistic or heretical practices: the mystical current of Sufism, heretical ideas of progressive or moderate clerics, and “deviant” teachings of Shiite Islam and other non-Sunni sects. The puritanical and categorical nature of its message had an appeal in villages and cities across the Muslim world. Its preachers had immeasurable wherewithal to conduct lavish proselytization trips to Africa, the Middle East, South Asia, and even Europe and the United States. Muslim expatriates working in Arab states of the Persian Gulf found it easy to obtain funds to build mosques in their home countries. Saudi embassies monitored Shiite proselytization and countered it with all the financial might they had, supplied by the Saudi state or charities.
  • Alamer argues that the biggest effect of the post-9/11 campaigns was that they did away with what he dubs “the Faisal Formula,” by which he means the Saudi balancing act of allowing Islamists to dominate the public space — whether in the educational, religious or social domains — without interfering in political decisions such as the relationship with the U.S. This balancing act was established by King Faisal, who wanted to use Islamists to safeguard the home front, including against sweeping ideologies like communism, liberalism and pan-Arabism, and to rely on the U.S. for security externally. The formula, which became the basis for dealing with the post-1979 threats, was challenged after the 1991 Gulf War, and the state response primarily involved security and authoritarian measures without doing away with the formula.
  • There are no fixed schools of thought and there is no infallible person. We should engage in continuous interpretation of Quranic texts, and the same goes for the traditions of the prophet.
  • Salafi-jihadists benefited from the ideological infrastructure or groundwork laid out by Wahhabism and Islamism but carved out their own distinct space, particularly in the aftermath of 9/11 and the regional wars that followed. The appeal of Wahhabism shrank even further with the Arab uprisings, as their liberal and radical rivals joined the conflicts against their regimes, while an already fragmented and hollowed-out Wahhabi establishment stood firmly by the status quo.
  • Bin Salman said the emphasis on the teachings of Wahhabism’s founder amounts to idolizing a human, which would go against the very teachings of the founding sheikh. The full response to the interviewer’s question is stark and damning to the core tenets of the Wahhabi establishment:When we commit ourselves to following a certain school or scholar, this means we are deifying human beings.
  • The progressive movement, opposed to both Islamists and the state, has likely not died. Rather, it is both latent and cautious. Understandably, any such voices will tread carefully under the current political atmosphere of crackdowns and lack of clarity, but the roots of this movement already exist and don’t need to form from scratch. The anti-Islamist movement will likely shape the ideological landscape in the kingdom in the coming years, as the forces of Islamism continue to wane.
  • Our role is to make sure all the laws passed in Saudi Arabia reflect the following: … that they do not violate the Quran and the traditions of the prophet, the Quran being our constitution; that they do not contradict our interests; that they preserve the security and interests of citizens, and that they help in the development and prosperity of the country. So, laws are passed based on this procedure according to international conventions.
  • multiple reasons, from the effects of the Arab uprisings and the rise of the Islamic State to the growing influence of geopolitical rivals in Iran and Turkey, coalesced to make Saudi Arabia focus more on fortifying the home front and move away from its global backing of the Wahhabi movement. The country has moved to close mosques and charities across the world, including in Russia and Europe
  • In Saudi Arabia and beyond, Wahhabism has been losing ground for too many years. The factors that once helped it grow no longer exist. Politically, the state no longer needs the ideology, which would not have flourished without the state. Even if the Saudi state decided to change its view about the utility of Wahhabism, it would not be able to reverse the trend. Wahhabism ran out of gas ideologically before it did politically. The ideology, sometimes seen as a distinct sect even from the Sunni tradition it emerged from, had long projected power disproportionate to its actual appeal and strength because it had the backing of a powerful and wealthy kingdom and a vast network of rich and generous donors. That bubble has now burst, and Wahhabism is reduced to its right size of being a minor player in the Muslim landscape, progressively including in Saudi Arabia.
Ed Webb

Opinion | France cynically targets Muslim women - again - The Washington Post - 0 views

  • France, more than any other European country, has struggled with a wave of Islamist violence that has led to the death of more than 230 people. One response to these attacks from the political right and the center-left has been a rhetorical hardening on Islam and its place in French society. But many French Muslims and other minority voices say this hardening has often stifled good-faith criticism of government policies
  • I was called a terrorist and repeatedly harassed by social media trolls, only to find out they’d been funded by the French government
  • several organizations were given money without having to demonstrate their previous work on radicalization or, for some of them, to demonstrate any work at all. And some of those organizations and their representatives had personal relationships with Schiappa. Then it appeared that some of the money doled out by the government was ultimately used in the 2022 presidential campaign to criticize opponents of Emmanuel Macron, which is not legal. The government’s money cannot be used in favor of a candidate during a campaign — it has to be neutral.
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  • some of those organizations used that money to harass people online, including me. A number of other anti-racist and feminist advocates were targeted. The worst was when they depicted a number of us together in an illustration that also showed the face of Salah Abdeslam, the convicted terrorist who was mastermind of the 2015 attacks on Paris. Even some of the government’s allies had to ask: Should tax dollars be used to harass and defame public figures who are seen as criticizing the government?
  • announced the ban of abayas and qamis — traditional garments — in public schools, interpreting them as “religious outfits.” This is in keeping with France’s principle of laïcité, or secularism, which enshrines the neutrality of the state toward religious observance and the freedom of belief. Since 2004, laïcité has become a political football, especially in schools.
  • There’s no question that all of this constitutes a legitimate national trauma, but this very real fear is used by the government to depict the way some Muslim teenagers dress not only as a “violation of secularism” but also as “an attack” and “an attempt to destabilize” the French republic.
  • This is warlike rhetoric, and it treats teenage female Muslims as a monolithic entity — and a threat.
  • recent years show that it is impossible for any Muslim woman who wears a religious sign to be visible in the public sphere. And I connect this to my own experience as a Black and Muslim woman. Being in the public eye and outspoken on Islamophobia, I have faced many attempts to silence me.
  • France has been tremendously ingenious and imaginative to make sure to enable its narrow conception of national identity. France pursues an ideal of assimilation and uses laïcité as an instrument to standardize the display of cultures
Ed Webb

Tunisia: Attack on Djerba synagogue was premeditated by national guard member - Al-Monitor: Independent, trusted coverage of the Middle East - 0 views

  • Tunisia’s Interior Ministry has identified the man behind an attack that killed five people earlier this week, saying Thursday that he intentionally targeted a synagogue on the Mediterranean island of Djerba in a premeditated act. The ministry described the shooting as a “cowardly criminal attack” but refrained from calling it an act of terrorism.
  • The French National Terrorism Prosecution Office has launched its own probe into the attack. Benjamin Haddad, who was French, was killed in the attack along with his cousin Aviel Haddad, who held dual Tunisian and Israeli citizenship.
  • The shooting coincided with the annual Jewish pilgrimage that is part of Lag Ba’omer celebration. Thousands of Jews from around the world gather at El-Ghriba synagogue, believed to be the oldest in Africa dating back 2,500 years.
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  • Djerba’s Jewish population is one of North Africa’s biggest, although in recent years it declined to 1,500, down from 100,000 in the 1960s
  • Tunisia and Israel do not have formal diplomatic relations, but Israelis can apply for a visa to travel to Djerba for the pilgrimage.
  • During his electoral campaign in 2019, Saied, who has since cemented his one-man rule, labeled normalization with Israel “high treason.”
Ed Webb

How Austria made the study of Islamophobia a crime | Middle East Eye - 0 views

  • my academic work on Islamophobia was cited as a reason for the terrorism allegations. The intelligence agency’s regular reports outlining why I was seen as a security threat delved deep into my academic work on Islamophobia, relating it to conspiracy theories and claiming that my Catholic director at Georgetown University, Washington, DC, was a staunch Islamist.
  • According to the regional court, my “activities in the preparation of the so-called Islamophobia Report and activity with the Bridge Initiative at Georgetown University is intended to disseminate the fighting term ‘Islamophobia’ with the goal of preventing any critical engagement with Islam as a religion […] in order to establish an Islamic state […]”.
  • there is a lot of work to be done on behalf of the Austrian intelligence service, which has been primed by alarmist experts spreading conspiracy theories to draw a picture of an immediate Muslim threat.
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  • the Austrian political elite has to ask itself how it sees the future of Muslims, who constitute nine percent of the population, in the country. While most political parties have been either silent or supportive  of anti-Muslim policies, the infamous Operation Luxor is a welcoming occasion to rethink the approach of the past years.
Ed Webb

Victor Orban's eyes may be bigger than his stomach - 0 views

  • When Prime Minister Victor Orban recently spelled out his vision of Hungary's frontiers, he joined a club of expansionist leaders such as Russia's Vladimir Putin, China's Xi Jinping, and members of the Indian power elite who define their countries’ borders in civilisational rather than national terms.Speaking on Romanian territory in the predominantly ethnic Hungarian town of Baile Tusnad in Transylvania, a onetime Austro-Hungarian possession home to a Hungarian minority, Mr. Orban echoed the worldviews of Messrs. Xi and Putin.
  • a worldview also embraced by members of India’s Hindu nationalist elite that endorses a country’s right to expand its internationally recognized borders to lands inhabited by their ethnic kin or territories and waters that historically were theirs
  • Mr. Modi has approached Indian Muslims, the world's largest minority and its largest Muslim minority, in much the same way that Mr. Orban envisions a racially and religiously pure Hungary
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  • he civilisationalist concept of Akhand Bharat embraced by his ideological alma mater.The concept envisions an India that stretches from Afghanistan to Myanmar and encompasses nuclear-armed Pakistan, Bangladesh, Nepal, Bhutan, Sri Lanka, and the Maldives.
  • Mr. Orban asserted that mixed-race countries "are no longer nations: They are nothing more than conglomerations of peoples" and are no longer part of what he sees as "the Western world."
  • Romanians may be more concerned about Mr. Orban’s racial remarks than his territorial ambitions, described by one Romanian Orban watcher as a "little man having pipe dreams.”
  • Mr. Orban shares Mr. Putin and Mr. Xi's resentment of perceived historical wrongs that need to be rectified irrespective of international law and the consequences of a world whose guardrails are dictated by might rather than the rule of law.
  • Mr. Orban left no doubt that his definition of the Hungarian motherland included Transylvania and other regions in the Carpathian Basin beyond Hungary's borders that ethnic Hungarians populate.
  • Mr. Orban implicitly suggested a revision or cancellation of the 1920 Treaty of Trianon, which deprived Hungary of much of its pre-World War I territory.
  • So far, Mr. Orban’s support of Russia has isolated him in Europe with the de facto demise of the Visegrad 4 or V4 in its current form in the wake of the invasion of Ukraine and the threat of an economic recession.
  • Slovakian Prime Minister Eduard Heger has pledged to use his current six-month presidency of the European Council to return the Visegrad 4 to the roots of its founding in 1991 as the four countries emerged from communism: respect for democracy and a commitment to European integration.
Ed Webb

Anti-Muslim hatred ignored by EU, activists say - 0 views

  • The EU has a problem with anti-Muslim hatred and its institutions are doing little to help, some 41 civil society groups have said.
  • The EU and France opposed creating an International Day to Combat Islamophobia at the UN
  • the EU Commission has failed to appoint a new coordinator on anti-Muslim hatred since July last year
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  • "anti-Muslim violence, hate speech, discrimination and marginalisation" were "swiftly proliferating in Europe where Muslims (or those perceived as such) are now being identified as a primary target by political parties and violent far-right movements alike,"
  • EU countries dropped references to the importance of the coordinator on anti-Muslim hatred after Poland said if that was to be in the text, then it wanted a special coordinator on "Christianophobia" in Europe as well
  • French policies paid more attention to combatting antisemitism and the EU Commission has had a coordinator in that role in place since 2015, giving the impression of a "hierarchy" of EU concern, the 41 civil groups pointed out
Ed Webb

Secret British 'black propaganda' campaign targeted cold war enemies | Cold war | The Guardian - 0 views

  • The British government ran a secret “black propaganda” campaign for decades, targeting Africa, the Middle East and parts of Asia with leaflets and reports from fake sources aimed at destabilising cold war enemies by encouraging racial tensions, sowing chaos, inciting violence and reinforcing anti-communist ideas, newly declassified documents have revealed.
  • The campaign also sought to mobilise Muslims against Moscow, promoting greater religious conservatism and radical ideas. To appear authentic, documents encouraged hatred of Israel.
  • The Information Research Department (IRD) was set up by the post-second world war Labour government to counter Soviet propaganda attacks on Britain. Its activities mirrored the CIA’s cold war propaganda operations and the extensive efforts of the USSR and its satellites.
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  • The Observer last year revealed the IRD’s major campaign in Indonesia in 1965 that helped encourage anti-communist massacres which left hundreds of thousands dead. There, the IRD prepared pamphlets purporting to be written by Indonesian patriots, but in fact were created by British propagandists, calling on Indonesians to eliminate the PKI, then the biggest communist party in the non-communist world.
  • “The UK did not simply invent material, as the Soviets systematically did, but they definitely intended to deceive audiences in order to get the message across.”
  • “reports” sent to warn other governments, selected journalists and thinktanks about “Soviet subversion” or similar threats.The reports comprised carefully selected facts and analysis often gleaned from intelligence provided by Britain’s security services, but appeared to come from ostensibly independent analysts and institutions that were in reality set up and run by the IRD. One of the first of these, set up in 1964, was the International Committee for the Investigation of Communist Front Organisations.
  • Between 1965 and 1972, the IRD forged at least 11 statements from Novosti, the Soviet state-run news agency. One followed Egypt’s defeat in the 1967 six-day war against Israel and underlined Soviet anger at Egypt’s “waste” of so much of the arms and materiel Moscow had supplied to the country.
  • The IRD also forged literature purporting to come from the Muslim Brotherhood, a mass Islamist organisation that had a significant following across the Middle East. One pamphlet accused Moscow of encouraging the 1967 war, criticised the quality of Soviet military equipment, and called the Soviets “filthy-tongued atheists” who saw the Egyptians as little more than “peasants who lived all their lives nursing reactionary Islamic superstitions”.AdvertisementThe IRD also created an entirely fictive radical Islamist organisation called the League of Believers, which attacked the Russians as non-believers and blamed Arab defeats on a lack of religious faith, a standard trope among religious conservatives at the time.
  • The IRD’s leaflets echoed other claims made by radical Islamists, arguing that military misdeeds should not be blamed on “the atheists or the imperialists or the Zionist Jews” but on “Egyptians who are supposed to be believers”.
  • Other material highlighted the poor view that Moscow took of the Palestine Liberation Organisation and the limited aid offered by the Soviets to Palestinian armed nationalist groups. This was contrasted with the more supportive stance of the Chinese, in a bid to widen the split between the two communist powers.
  • One major initiative focused on undermining Ian Smith’s regime in Rhodesia, the former colony that unilaterally declared its independence from the UK in 1965 in an attempt to maintain white minority rule.The IRD set up a fake group of white Rhodesians who opposed Smith. Its leaflets attacked him for lying, creating “chaos” and crippling the economy. “The whole world is against us … We must call a halt while we can still save our country,”
  • In early 1963, the IRD forged a statement from the World Federation of Democratic Youth, a Soviet front organisation, which denounced Africans as uncivilised, “primitive” and morally weak. The forgery received press coverage across the continent, with many newspapers reacting intemperately.
  • A similar forgery in 1966 underlined the “backwardness” and “political immaturity” of Africa. Another, a statement purportedly from Novosti, blamed poor academic results at an international university in Moscow on the quality of the black African students enrolled there. The IRD sent more than 1,000 copies to addresses across the developing world.
  • As with most such efforts, the impact of the IRD’s campaigns was often difficult to judge. On one occasion, IRD officials were able to report that a newspaper in Zanzibar printed one of their forgeries about Soviet racism, and that the publication prompted an angry response. This was seen as a major achievement. Officials were also pleased when Kenyan press used fake material about the 1967 six-day war, and when newspapers across much of the Islamic world printed a fake Novosti bulletin on the conflict. Occasionally, western newspapers unwittingly used IRD materials, too.
  • Though the IRD was shut down in 1977, researchers are now finding evidence that similar efforts continued for almost another decade.“The [new documents] are particularly significant as a precursor to more modern efforts of putting intelligence into the public domain.“Liz Truss has a ’government information cell’, and defence intelligence sends out daily tweets to ‘pre-but’ Russian plots and gain the upper hand in the information war, but for much of the cold war the UK used far more devious means,” Cormac said.
Ed Webb

Our Oligarch - 0 views

  • Abramovich is perhaps the most visible of the “oligarchs” surrounding Putin, who are widely perceived as extensions of the Russian president and keepers of a vast fortune that is effectively under the Kremlin’s control. Much of this wealth was extracted from Russia’s enormous energy and mineral resources, and is now stashed in secret bank accounts in the Mediterranean and the Caribbean, in empty mansions and condos from London to Manhattan to Miami, and in yachts and private jets on the French Riviera.
  • as much as 60% of Russia’s GDP is offshore
  • Abramovich—who, like many of the most prominent Russian oligarchs, is Jewish—has for years been a prolific donor to Jewish philanthropies. He has given half a billion dollars to Jewish charities over the past two decades, sending money linked to Putin’s kleptocratic regime circulating through Jewish institutions worldwide
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  • The reserved, gray-bearded Abramovich is notoriously litigious toward critics who seek to detail his close ties to Putin. Last year, he successfully sued the British journalist Catherine Belton, who claimed in her 2020 book Putin’s People that the Russian president dictated Abramovich’s major purchases, including his decision to buy Chelsea. He also extracted an apology from a British newspaper for calling him a “bag carrier” for the Russian president.
  • Among other things, he has profoundly influenced Jewish life on three continents, developing deep financial ties with major communal institutions. He is partly responsible for the preeminent role played by Chabad in the religious life of post-Soviet Russia, for the growth of major Jewish museums from Russia to Israel, for a raft of anti-antisemitism programming involving leading American and British Jewish organizations, and for the expansion of Israeli settlements in East Jerusalem
  • the Jewish world is forced to reckon with its long embrace of Abramovich, and with the moral costs of accepting his money
  • Certain Soviet Jews of Abramovich’s generation found themselves at the forefront of an emerging market economy. Concentrated in white collar professions but systematically excluded from desirable posts and from the top ranks of the Communist Party, they were unusually prepared—and, perhaps, motivated—to find legal and semi-legal points of entry into the tightly-regulated commerce between the Soviet Union and the West. This helps explain why, as the historian Yuri Slezkine writes in The Jewish Century, six of the seven top oligarchs of 1990s Russia (Petr Aven, Boris Berezovsky, Mikhail Fridman, Vladimir Gusinsky, Mikhail Khodorkovsky, and Alexander Smolensky) were ethnic Jews.
  • Boris Yeltsin soon initiated the firesale privatization of state-controlled industries at the urging of Washington and the IMF—a reckless transition from a command economy to a capitalist one that drove millions of Russians into poverty
  • the Yeltsin administration implemented its infamous loans-for-shares program, selling off key state industries in rigged auctions to Russia’s new business elite for a fraction of their real value in order to stabilize the state’s finances in the short term. Berezovsky and Abramovich gained ownership stakes in Sibneft, one of the world’s largest energy companies, and became instant billionaires.
  • In 1996, the handful of leading oligarchs pooled their financial resources—and directed their media companies’ coverage—to reelect the deeply unpopular Yeltsin over his Communist challenger, Gennady Zyuganov, whose platform of re-nationalizing industries terrified both the Russian and Western business classes
  • Fearing that it was unsustainable for a small group of mostly Jewish billionaires to prop up an ailing, visibly alcoholic president—especially after the ruble collapsed in 1998, dragging down a generation’s living standards and initiating a hunt for scapegoats—Berezovsky spearheaded an effort the following year to replace Yeltsin with a young, healthy, disciplined, and then-obscure former KGB officer named Vladimir Putin. It was a decision he would come to regret.
  • wealth so easily acquired could just as easily be taken away. In 2001, Putin hounded Berezovsky and Gusinsky—whose TV networks had criticized the president’s mishandling of a naval disaster—with criminal indictments for tax fraud, forcing them to sell their media and energy holdings at a fraction of their true cost. As a result, Abramovich, who had never challenged Putin, acquired control of Sibneft, while Berezovsky fled to the United Kingdom and Gusinsky departed for Spain and then Israel. Abramovich again came out ahead in 2003, when the oligarch Khodorkovsky was sent to a Siberian prison on tax charges after criticizing Putin for corruption, leaving his assets in the energy sector to be redistributed among those on good terms with the president.
  • “I don’t think there is a percent of independence in Abramovich,” said Roman Borisovich, a Luxembourg-based Russian banker turned anti-corruption activist who once encountered Abramovich through Berezovsky in the 1990s. “For Abramovich to stay alive, he had to turn against his master [Berezovsky], which is what he did, and he has served Putin handsomely ever since.”
  • Whereas in the Yeltsin era, the term identified a system dominated by truly independent tycoons, “Putin’s top priority when he came to power was to break that system, replacing it with a system of concentrated power in which men who are inaccurately referred to as oligarchs now have only as much access to wealth as Putin allows them to have,”
  • Even as he built up his credibility with Putin, he joined many of his fellow oligarchs in stashing his billions in Western financial institutions, which proved eager to assist. “Elites in the post-Soviet space are constantly looking to move their assets and wealth into rule-of-law jurisdictions, which generally means Western countries like the US or UK,”
  • In 2008, Berezovsky sued his former protege over his confiscated Sibneft shares; then, in 2012, seven months after a judge rejected all of his claims, Berezovsky died in his London home in an apparent suicide. Some former associates believe he might have been murdered
  • In 2017, BuzzFeed reported that US spy agencies suspect Russian involvement in as many as 14 mysterious deaths in Britain over the previous decade, including Berezovsky’s. In the wake of the 2018 poisoning of the defected double agent Sergei Skripal and his daughter, British intelligence services became increasingly wary of wealthy expats with close ties to the Kremlin. Diplomatic strain stymied Abramovich’s effort to acquire a Tier 1 British visa, which would have enabled him to stay in the country for 40 months.
  • “No one forced the British or American real estate industries to toss their doors open to as much illicit wealth as they could find, or the state of Delaware to craft the world’s greatest anonymous shell company services,” said Michel. “Western policymakers crafted all of the policies that these oligarchs are now taking advantage of.”
  • Abramovich also safeguarded a significant part of his fortune in the US, especially during his third marriage to the Russian American socialite and fashion designer Dasha Zhukova. Even after their 2018 divorce, Abramovich began the process of converting three adjacent townhouses on Manhattan’s Upper East Side into what will eventually become the largest home in the city, an “urban castle” valued at $180 million—making him one of the many wealthy Russians sheltering assets in New York’s booming and conveniently opaque real estate sector. (The mansion is intended for Zhukova and their two young children; Abramovich also has five children from his second marriage based primarily in the UK.) He also owns at least two homes in Aspen, Colorado, a gathering place of the global elite.
  • the oligarchs are now credibly threatened with exile from the West. Countries like France and Germany have already begun confiscating yachts owned by select Russian officials. And although the UK is still struggling to come up with a legal basis for following suit, leading politicians like Labour Leader Keir Starmer are urging direct sanctions against Abramovich. “Abramovich’s reputation has finally collapsed, along with the other supposedly apolitical oligarchs,” Michel said four days after Russia invaded Ukraine. “There’s no recovery from this. This is a titanic shift in terms of how these oligarchs can operate.”
  • Israel has been more hesitant to hold him to account.
  • In 2018, Abramovich acquired Israeli citizenship through the law of return, immediately becoming the second-wealthiest Israeli, behind Miriam Adelson. As a new Israeli citizen, he joined several dozen Russian Jewish oligarchs who have sought citizenship or residency in the Jewish state—a group that includes Fridman, Gusinsky, and the late Berezovsky. Since 2015, Abramovich has owned and sometimes lived in the 19th-century Varsano hotel in Tel Aviv’s trendy Neve Tzedek neighborhood, and in 2020 he purchased a mansion in Herzliya for $65 million—the most expensive real estate deal in the country’s history
  • As an Israeli passport holder, Abramovich is eligible to visit the UK for six months at a time and is exempt from paying taxes in Israel on his overseas income for the first decade of his residency
  • Given his increasingly precarious geopolitical position, Jewishness has become Abramovich’s identity of last resort—and Jewish philanthropic giving has provided him with an air of legitimacy not only in Israel but throughout the Jewish world. Abramovich and his fellow oligarchs “need to spend some money to launder their reputations,” said Borisovich, the anti-corruption activist. “They cannot be seen as Putin’s agents of influence; they need to be seen as independent businessmen. So if they can exploit Jewish philanthropy or give money to Oxford or the Tate Gallery, that’s the cost of doing business.”
  • A 2017 article in Politico, which identified Abramovich and Leviev as “Chabad’s biggest patrons worldwide,” also referred to Lazar as “Putin’s rabbi.” Lazar has often run interference for the Russian president—for instance, by defending his initial crackdown on oligarchs like Gusinsky as not motivated by antisemitism, or by praising Russia as safe for Jews under his governance. (The researcher noted that Putin has also cultivated prominent loyalists in other Russian religious communities, including the Orthodox Church and Islam.)
  • Abramovich also significantly funded the construction of the $50 million Jewish Museum and Tolerance Center in Moscow, which opened in 2012 (and to which Putin pledged to donate a month of his presidential salary). In a 2016 article in The Forward, the scholar Olga Gershenson suggested that the museum’s narrative bordered on propaganda, framing Jews as “a model Russian minority” and “glorifying and mourning . . . without raising more controversial and relevant questions that would require the viewer to come to terms with a nation’s difficult past.”
  • “It concentrates on the Soviet victory over the Nazis, and then it ends by saying that Jews in Putin’s Russia are all good and content.”
  • “Say No to Antisemitism” has brought together Chelsea players and management with many top Jewish groups; the currents heads of the ADL, the WJC, the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations, and the Holocaust Educational Trust, among others, are all listed on its steering committee. The campaign is at least in part intended to address the antisemitism of some Chelsea fans, who have been known to shout “Yid!” and hiss in imitation of gas chambers when taunting fans of the rival club Tottenham, which has a historically Jewish fan base that proudly refers to itself as “the Yid Army.” Last November, Israeli President Isaac Herzog described the campaign as “a shining example of how sports can be a force for good and tolerance.”
  • Abramovich is also one of the primary benefactors of a Holocaust museum that opened in Porto last May. As of last year, Abramovich is a newly minted citizen of Portugal (and by extension, the European Union), which offers such recognition to anyone who can prove Sephardic ancestry dating back before the Portuguese expulsion of Jews in 1496.
  • Berel Rosenberg, a representative of the museum, denied that Abramovich had given the Porto Jewish community any money besides a €250 fee for Sephardic certification; regarding reports to the contrary, he alleged that “lies were published by antisemites and corrupt journalists.” However, Porto’s Jewish community does acknowledge that Abramovich has donated money to projects honoring the legacy of Portuguese Sephardic Jews in Hamburg, and he has been identified as an honorary member of Chabad Portugal and B’nai B’rith International Portugal due to his philanthropic activities in the country.
  • Abramovich has made a $30 million donation for a nanotechnology research center at Tel Aviv University; funded a football-focused “leadership training program” for Arab and Jewish children; and supported KKL-JNF’s tree-planting campaign in the southern Negev, which is dedicated to Lithuanian victims of the Holocaust—and which has drawn opposition from local Bedouin communities who view it as a land grab.
  • he has kept his support for Israeli settlements well-hidden
  • Abramovich has used front companies registered in the British Virgin Islands to donate more than $100 million to a right-wing Israeli organization called the Ir David Foundation, commonly known as Elad, which has worked since the 1980s to move Jewish settlers into occupied East Jerusalem. Elad also controls an archeological park and major tourist site called City of David, which it has leveraged in its efforts to “Judaize” the area, including by seizing Palestinian homes in the surrounding neighborhood of Silwan and digging under some to make them uninhabitable.
  • Even before he announced he would be setting up a charity to help victims in Ukraine, members of Abramovich’s family were quick to distance themselves from the war: A contemporary art museum in Moscow co-founded by Abramovich and Zhukova has announced that it will halt all new exhibitions in protest of the war. Abramovich’s 27-year-old daughter Sofia, who lives in London, posted a message on her popular Instagram account that read, “The biggest and most successful lie of the Kremlin’s propaganda is that most Russians stand with Putin.”
  • Just two days before Putin launched his invasion of Ukraine, it was reported that Abramovich is donating tens of millions of dollars to Yad Vashem, the global Holocaust remembrance center in Jerusalem
  • Yad Vashem chairman Dani Dayan joined the heads of multiple Israeli charitable organizations in urging the US not to sanction Abramovich. The letter was also signed by Chief Rabbi of Israel David Lau and representatives of Sheba Medical Center, Tel Aviv University, and Elad
  • Oleg Deripaska and Mikhail Fridman, were already calling for peace negotiations just three days after the invasion. (Fridman and Deripaska are also major Jewish philanthropists, as are other Russian oligarchs including Petr Aven, Yuri Milner, and Viktor Vekselberg. All of them now face global scrutiny.)
  • “In order for settlers to take over Palestinian homes, they need a lot of money,” said Hagit Ofran, co-director of the Settlement Watch project at the Israeli organization Peace Now, “both to take advantage of poor Palestinians for the actual purchases, and then for the long and expensive legal struggle that follows, and that can bankrupt Palestinian families. The money is crucial.” Of Abramovich’s support for Elad, she added, “That’s a lot from one source; I assume that if you give such a big donation, you know what it is for.”
  • Abramovich and others have spent more than two decades loyally serving and profiting off Putin’s corrupt and violent regime—one that has been accused of murdering and jailing journalists and political dissidents and of committing war crimes from Chechnya to Syria. And for much of that time, Jewish institutions worldwide have been more than happy to take money from Abramovich and his peers
  • longstanding philanthropic ties may affect the Jewish communal world’s willingness to hold Russia accountable for its violation of Ukraine’s sovereignty
  • “I think the view of much of Jewish philanthropic leadership, right and left, conservative and liberal, has been the bottom line: If the purposes for which the philanthropy is given are positive, humane, holy, and seen to strengthen both the Jewish community and the whole of society, then to sit and analyze whether the donor was exploitive or not, and whether this was kosher or not, would be hugely diverting, amazingly complicated, and divisive.”
  • Rabbi Jill Jacobs, executive director of T’ruah: The Rabbinic Call for Human Rights, acknowledged the difficulty of making ethical calls about donors, but argued that the attempt is still necessary. “In philanthropy, nearly all money is tainted, either because it was acquired by exploiting workers, by harming the environment, by selling harmful products, or by taking advantage of systems that benefit the wealthy to the detriment of others. That said, we can’t throw up our hands and say that we can either take no money or all money; there have to be red lines,” she said.
  • Berman, the scholar of Jewish philanthropy, agrees. “It is tempting to say all money is fungible, so where it came from does not or cannot matter,” she said. “But no matter how much we might want to launder the money, wash it clean of its past and its connections to systems of power, the very act of doing so is an erasure, an act of historical revisionism. Even worse, it can actually participate in bolstering harmful systems of power, often by deterring institutions reliant on that money from holding a person or system to account.”
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