MESOP MIDEAST WATCH: OLIGARCH MONEY WELCOME IN ISRAEL – TAU president defends donations by sanctioned Russian oligarch
Ariel Porat defends signing a letter to the United States against imposing sanctions on Roman Abramovich, who was sanctioned by the EU and Britain for supporting Russian President Vladimir Putin’s aggression in Ukraine.
Tel Aviv University President Ariel Porat defended signing a letter to the United States against imposing sanctions on Russian oligarch Roman Abramovich in a closed meeting of the school’s senate this week.
The letter in question was sent to the US ambassador to Jerusalem, Thomas Nides, in February, shortly before the Russian invasion of Ukraine. It was signed by the heads of seven Israeli institutions that benefited from Abramovich’s donations, including Tel Aviv University, which received $50 million from the Russian billionaire for the construction of a new nanoscience building named after him.
“When someone donates $50 million to an institution and asks you, along with others, to sign a letter – I don’t see a decent person declining,” Porat was quoted as saying by Haaretz.
He added that the nanoscience building was “of great importance to the campus” as it ensured the employment of over 100 researchers.
“Nothing has changed about the person himself because of the outbreak of the war, nothing new has been discovered about him,” Porat noted, criticizing British authorities for imposing sanctions against Abramovich without a trial and calling it “a very odd populist approach.”
The university staff was split over the president’s decision to sign the letter, with senior faculty members claiming that it “stained the institution.”
In March, the Yad Vashem World Holocaust Remembrance Center, which was also among those asking for Abramovich’s immunity in the letter, suspended a large donation from the Russian oligarch following the news of him being sanctioned by Britain.
The European Union and Britain imposed sanctions against Abramovich and other Russian tycoons for their support of Russian President Vladimir Putin’s aggression in Ukraine, and in an attempt to hurt the Kremlin’s ability to finance the war.
Abramovich was also forced to sell the Chelsea football club that he had owned for nearly 20 years.