In Living Memory of An Oligarch

Israel High Court to Decide If Old City Plaza Can Be Named After Ukraine Tycoon

On April 3, a few fancy looking cars were speeding down the narrow streets of Old Jerusalem. Jerusalem mayor NirBarkat, Israel’s chief rabbi Yona Metzger, Ukraine’s chief rabbi Reuven Azman and dozens of other dignitaries – politicians, Chabad messengers and businessmen came to attend a very special event. It was the inauguration of Vadim Rabinovich plaza in the Old City of Jerusalem.

Standing with his back to the Kotel, Israeli flags flying in the air, Rabinovich was notably touched by this outstanding gesture.

Bending Rules To Name A Street After A Living Person

It’s not every day that a street or a square in Israel, let alone in Jerusalem is named after someone who is still alive. A blue sign that spelled his name in three languages – Hebrew, English and Arabic – was revealed to the sound of approving hand-claps from the guests of honor. From now on the name of the Kharkov-born Jewish oligarch will be forever entangled with the name of the Holy City, one of the invitees said, and added “and who deserves it more than him?”

Indeed, during the last few years, the name of Vadim Rabinovich was heard far too often in the halls of Jerusalem municipality, as well as the streets of the Old City. The golden Menorah, a symbol of both lost II temple and the future III one, was donated by the oligarch in the late nineties. Last year it was moved from Cardo square closer to Kotel, and fast became one of the eye-catching Jerusalem attractions everyone must take their photo with.

The menorah donation was followed by other generous donations for the restoration of Hurva synagogue in the Old City.

Apparently that was enough for the municipality of Jerusalem to bend a few rules and to name a square in the Old City after Rabinovich.

Not Everyone Happy With Breaking Rules

Although every university facility in Israel and almost every room in Israeli hospitals carries someone’s name, Israeli law forbids having a street or a square named after a person who is still alive. Moreover, the rules are even stricter in the Old City, where no street should be named after someone who was born later then 1500.

rabinovich square
Rabinovich Square sign

Just a reminder – Vadim Rabinovich personally attended the ceremony in Jerusalem, proving to all that he was alive. There was no doubt also, that the man was much younger than 600 years.

A few Jerusalemites were outraged by this decision, among them a councilwoman, Rachel Azaria, who said that the whole process was illegal and that the city council members were deceived. Azaria decided to turn to the High Court to stop the naming of the square, and the verdict is expected soon.

Vadim Rabinovich, who seemed to be quite happy to walk on the square that carries his own name, was not available for comment.

The European Jewish Union Begins

Rabinovich, the owner of Ukranian Arsenal club, a member of Ukranian parliament and an owner of media holdings, is quite busy these days with his latest project – the European Jewish Union, the EJU for short.

The new organization was revealed last year, with plenty of brows raised in Europe and beyond. Apparently, Rabinovich and his partner Igor Kolomoyski, another Jewish-Ukrainian mogul, decided that the European Jewry are “a broken record” and it was about time to reset the European Jewish system. For that purpose, EJU was founded. The heads of many veteran Jewish organizations in France, Belgium and Great Britain only heard of EJU when it held unique online elections to the European Jewish Council, an offshoot of EJU.

Surprisingly, anyone with internet access could vote for just about anyone, And there were plenty of juicy and intriguing candidates, such as Julio Iglesias, Sasha Baron Cohen, Diane von Firsternberg and many other famous Jews who weren’t necessarily contacted prior to their enlistment to the future European Jewish Parliament.

The peculiar election process, which lasted a few weeks, came to an end. No celebrities were elected, but the founders of EJU and EJP did well nevertheless. Soon, an invitation to meet the president of the EU came, and then the organization hosted a meeting with the ambassador of Bahrain in Brussels.

European Jewish Organizations Feel The Heat

Jewish organizations in Europe began feeling the heat, although in the beginning their reaction to Rabinovich’s initiative was humorous and light-hearted. Then, when the organizations heard that the heads of EJU were invited to the President’s conference held in Jerusalem, they attempted to talk the organizers out of this idea, emphasizing that EJU doesn’t exactly represent European Jewry, and that the origins of its funds are quite suspicious. They didn’t succeed, and some of the participants in the Presidents conference travelled to Jerusalem in Vadim Rabinovich’s private plane.

Now it seems the influential businessman has all the bases covered. He has the European Jewish Union to promote his interests in Europe, he enjoys the legitimacy of being a generous Jewish philanthrope in Jerusalem, and he has the “Jewish One” TV satellite channel in English to enlighten the people about the events in the Jewish world and the ambitions and plans of his newly-found organization.

Oligarchs And Tycoons Not All Squeaky Clean

It seems that neither the Jerusalem municipality nor his supporters in Europe are concerned about Rabinovich’s unsavory reputation. The story goes that he traded arms with the militant Afghani Taliban, as published by the German Der Spiegel in January 2002.

Not so long ago, the Israeli capital was involved in an affair with another Russian tycoon – Arkadi Gaidamak. Gaidamak, who was said to have made his fortune in the Russia-Angola deal, in which he acted as mediator, tried to run for mayor’s office, but lost the election. A generous donor, he soon left Israel and sank in debts, leaving behind nothing but an awkward memory.

Unlike Gaidamak, Rabinovich stays away from Jerusalem politics. For now, at least. It’s not clear yet if the Old City plaza will be carrying his name eventually, but there is no doubt that Jerusalem, one of the most explosive cities on earth, will play a significant role in Rabinovich’s political ambitions somewhere else – for example in Europe. In his own words “The world has changed and we also have to change. If we tried before to be polite and tolerant, so that we won’t offend anyone, now it’s the perfect time to change that position. Completely.”