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Ukrainian Cash & the Degradation of Rabbinic Moral Leadership

Disclaimer: All individuals are considered legally innocent until proven guilty in a court of law.

Photo by Pixabay on Pexels.com

Worldwide Corruption Is The Norm

In sociology, “deviance” is behavior that stands outside the norm and it is also a way of referring to criminal behavior.

However, looking at the state of the world, one might say that corruption is so endemic that it has become the norm. For example, Ukraine is plagued by corruption; when does a plague become the standard? (The country is taking steps to change that.)

Russia suffers from corruption, too. So does the United States.

War Is A Competition Between Criminal Billionaires

Corruption occurs in multiple circumstances. One of the main ones is when rich people seek the upper hand for themselves and their business interests.

Regardless of the apparent or immediate precipitating cause, the Ukraine-Russia war can be seen as a war between competing financial interests.

Money Corrupts

We live in a world where “cash is king” and it is impossible to function without it.

Rabbis and other religious leaders, by the nature of their work, are not moneymakers. Therefore they depend on donations and other support from people who have money.

Funding by oligarchs, billionaires, and other elites makes it impossible for rabbis and other religious leaders to exercise moral authority:

  • Religious leaders are not in a position to question the legality of their dealings.
  • Religious leaders need large amounts of money in order to do their work.
  • Once religious leaders have taken the money, any individual who questions the oligarch puts the religious leader in financial jeopardy.

Rabbis and other religious leaders may continue to hold people accountable at the micro-level, but this becomes problematic when group life becomes involved:

  • As soon as accountability jeopardizes revenue, their lives and the lives of their parishioners, who depend on donations, are suddenly at stake.
  • The religious leader operates in a larger social context wherein he or she will be judged by their peers. They are part of the same rabbinic associations and are known through formal and informal social networks locally, likely nationally and possibly internationally. The religious leader who “breaks with the pack” and challenges a major donor will likely incur pressure from peers to back down “unless there is absolute proof.”
  • All sorts of halachic (Jewish religious) principles may enter into the discussion, such as whether it’s the rabbis purview to challenge the oligarch’s business dealings; whether the principle of giving charity outweighs a very close look at their finances; and so on. But the discussion is biased by the underlying conflict of interest.

Moral Corrosion

  • Let us assume that the oligarch must engage in some questionable, if not outright criminal behavior as a means of obtaining the massive wealth they accumulate.
  • Normally, the religious community, epitomized by the rabbi, would be aware of this and be cautious about taking the oligarch’s money. Alternatively, the religious leader who has taken the money already should return it when questions appear.
  • However, this is more of a theory than reality. In practice, it seems, “we don’t investigate the business dealings of our donors,” and so the recipient would (conveniently) typically wait for concrete proof before refusing or returning a donation.
  • The oligarch-recipient operates within a much larger network of other oligarchs and their recipients. Each one becomes a node, and when that node is destroyed, another node appears and subsumes it.
  • As a practical matter, the lone rabbi cannot censure the oligarch lest they be cut off by not only the oligarch but also their peers. A competing oligarch is always waiting to step in and nominate “their” rabbi for office.

This dynamic is so obvious as to be ordinary, yet it is also suppressed as a topic of discussion or investigation. This indicates how widespread the corrosion of our moral fabric is.

Philanthropy As A Form Of Money Laundering

Oligarchs intersperse their time spent on business with participation in communal organizations and initiatives. It is not only good for the soul, but benefits them financially, through access to politicians and influencers, as well as reputationally, as they are photographed with this respected person and that one. A good reputation means investors have a higher confidence level about dealing with them.

Within the realm of religion, the model is fairly generic:

  • The philanthropist (oligarch, billionaire, etc.) allies with a certain religious figure.
  • The religious figure obtains an official appointment, as chief rabbi, for example.
  • This creates a dependency by the rabbi or other religious figure on the philanthropist.
  • The community depends on the rabbi.
  • Now the oligarch controls the religious community.

Building on this model, with respect to government and politics:

  • Meanwhile, the government contacts the rabbi as a proxy for the Jewish community.
  • The rabbi lends support to the government and so the Jewish people do as well.
  • The philanthropist appears where the Jewish community appears. There are photo opportunities between the oligarch, the rabbi and the government as projects are funded and people fed.

Again, the example here is Judaism and Ukraine but the concept applies to all religions and all countries and is transnational, affecting relationships within and between Ukraine, Israel, Russia and the USA.

A good example during the 2022 Ukraine-Russia conflict was a delayed rescue attempt caused by a “well-known Russian Jewish oligarch with close ties to the Kremlin”:

“”Over the last five weeks, Jewish organizations are undertaking numerous rescue operations, of individuals and entire communities, from the various war-zones in Ukraine. Some have made headlines, but most remain deep under the radar, as they are still going on and any publicity could jeopardize the rescues, and lives. In one of these operations, there was an unexpected breakdown of communications between two key organizations. When one of those involved tried to work out what was happening, he was shocked to discover that a senior employee of a third organization had inserted himself into the operation. The shock was due to that organization’s long-time affiliation with a well-known Russian Jewish oligarch with close ties to the Kremlin…No names can be mentioned at this point. Perhaps after the war, when lives are no longer at risk, a more detailed reckoning will be possible. But this is just one small example of how complex and dangerous it has become for Jewish organizations to operate after decades in which Russian-Jewish oligarchs have acquired, through their ill-begotten riches and opaque agenda, positions of immense power in their infrastructure.”

https://archive.ph/TZROH#selection-845.0-961.423

Another is the cash Kolomoisky gave to Jewish charities in the U.S.A. The oligarch has been formally accused by the U.S. Justice Department of stealing millions from Ukrainians and laundering the cash in America. He is banned from entering America by the U.S. State Department due to accusations of using “political influence and official power for his personal benefit.”

https://nypost.com/2021/03/06/businessmen-accused-of-ukraine-money-laundering-gave-millions-to-ny-charities/

Kolomoisky is Volodomyr Zelensky’s (Zelenskiy’s) financial backer.

“Since entering politics Zelenskiy has been dogged by claims he is under the influence of Igor Kolomoisky, a billionaire whose TV channel screened Zelenskiy’s show. During the campaign Zelenskiy’s opponents alleged $41m from Kolomoisky entities found its way between 2012 and 2016 into offshore firms belonging to Zelenskiy and his circle, including Film Heritage. The Pandora papers show that at least some of the details in the scheme alleged by Poroshenko’s party correspond to reality.” 

https://www.theguardian.com/news/2021/oct/03/revealed-anti-oligarch-ukrainian-president-offshore-connections-volodymyr-zelenskiy

Those who take the money of oligarchs cannot criticize those oligarchs without getting burned. Unfortunately, because we live in a money-driven world, the outsize influence of their cash is everywhere.

More than 40 years ago, in 1977, Ehud Olmert, the former prime minister of Israel, pointed to the problem of the mafia’s influence on Israeli life.

“Long before he was accused of a litany of fraud and bribe charges, Ehud Olmert appeared before a closed-door committee to testify about the long arm of organized crime in Israel, which he said stretched to the highest levels of the army, the police, sports and more.”

https://www.haaretz.com/2011-04-24/ty-article/in-focus-when-olmert-took-on-the-israeli-mafia/0000017f-f6ae-d044-adff-f7ff84060000

It is typical for such accusations to fly back and forth, but nevertheless it points to an unpleasant reality that every so often rears its ugly head.

One also wonders if Olmert paid the price for making such accusations public by being targeted for a corruption investigation later on. Along with others, he was convicted of accepting bribes in 2014.

Olmert spoke angrily in 2020 of “a criminal gang that is headed by the prime minister of Israel,” meaning then-Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.

Dueling “Ukraine Chief Rabbis”—Dueling Patrons

Right now, Rabbi Yakov Dov Bleich and Rabbi Moshe Reuven Azman each claim to be the chief rabbi of Ukraine, a dispute that goes back to 2005:

“Azman challenged Bleich for the title in a 2005 election. Born in St. Petersburg, he was close to Viktor Yushchenko, who had been elected president of Ukraine the year before after surviving an assassination attempt by poison during the volatile campaign. Yushchenko named Azman as his liaison to Ukraine’s Jewish community.

But Azman’s election was deemed illegitimate by a majority of the local Chabad rabbis, who represented the Federation of Jewish Communities, the region’s largest Jewish group. Secular Jewish leaders from local cities and towns joined in protesting the vote.

https://forward.com/news/483355/chief-rabbi-ukraine-yaakov-bleich-moshe-azman/

Yushchenko suffered an assassination attempt during the 2004 election in Ukraine, which he won, beating rival Viktor Yanukovych.

Per Jacob Kornbluh, writing in Forward (a publication about Jewish culture), this is a complicated fight with credibility questions on both sides.

“Their dueling claims to be the country’s top Jewish leader date back two decades, a fraught history involving many questionable characters.”

Jacob Kornbluh, “A tale of two rabbis: Meet the men with dueling claims to be the leader of Ukraine’s Jews,” Forward [a Jewish publication], March 3, 2022 [archive link]

Rabbi Yaakov Bleich

Photo of Rabbi Yaakov Dov Bleich via Wikimedia. Photo is marked Creative Commons. No author listed.

Rabbi Moshe Azman

Photo of Rabbi Moshe Reuven Azman via Wikimedia. Photo is marked “public domain.”

Azman

2005

In 2005 Azman was elected Chief Rabbi of Ukraine, but the appointment was very controversial.

There were complaints that the choice had more to do with money than religion—specifically, access to the government for “media magnate” Vadim Rabinovich.

Rabinovich, left, and Azman. Enlarged screenshot (clip of group photo) via Times of Israel. https://jewishstandard.timesofisrael.com/vadim-rabinovich-claims-mantle/

“Following Moshe Reuven Azman’s election to the post….most of the country’s rabbis and dozens of secular activists…said Azman’s election as Ukraine’s chief rabbi was primarily intended to increase media magnate Vadim Rabinovich’s influence over President Viktor Yuschenko. The chief rabbi’s post can lead to better access to Ukrainian authorities and international donors, and to government recognition in the process of restitution of former Jewish communal property. In Ukraine, the government views the chief rabbi as the representative and chief liaison to the Jewish community.”

https://www.jta.org/archive/across-the-former-soviet-union-recent-election-of-third-chief-rabbi-in-ukraine-splits-jewish-communi

Rabinovich survived an attempted assassination in 2013, he claimed, after a rival businessman (and politician), Andrey Derkach, tried to force him into a business deal. Derkach denied it.

2010

Igor Kolomoisky–Zelensky’s patron and the “controlling interest” of Burisma, which put Hunter Biden on the board–is linked to Azman (see his 2011 support for Jewish museums in Ukraine).

He commandeered the leadership of the European Council of Jewish Communities with a hefty $14 million donation.

2011

Both Rabinovich and Kolomoisky “expressed interest,” said Azman (linking his name with theirs) in establishing several Jewish museums in Ukraine:

“Rabbi Moshe Azman, one of three claimants to the title of chief rabbi of Ukraine, revealed that two of the country’s wealthiest businessmen, Vadim Rabinovich and Igor Kolomoisky, have already expressed interest in the project.”

https://www.thejc.com/news/world/ukraine-launches-two-museums-1.28158

2014

Kolomoisky knowingly funds neo-Nazis and even jokes that he is one.

“Following the Euromaidan overthrow of President Victor Yanukovich, Kolomoisky sided with Ukrainian nationalists against Russia….In Russia, the oligarchs are subordinate to Putin, but Ukrainian politics are more chaotic and regionalized. There he can be in charge.

Calling himself jidobandera (‘jid’is a pejorative for Jew, and Bandera is the name of the World War II-era Ukrainian fascist whose followers slaughtered Jews and Poles, sometimes colluding with the Wehrmacht and sometimes on their own), the oligarch, appointed the governor of the Dnipropetrovsk Region, organized a nationalist militia into the Dnipro Battalion….Kolomoisky also assisted in the creation of several other armed factions, including the notorious neo-Nazi Azov Battalion, which has been incorporated into the Ukrainian National Guard.”

https://occidentaldissent.com/2022/03/22/igor-kolomoisky-zelensky-and-azov-battalion/

2018

Four years later, Azman indicates his support for then-President Trump—who is a kind of oligarch—by literally developing a prayer that he should succeed.

This action sends a clear political message to Americans. The Democrats can’t support Azman.

2019

Azman is seen with Trump lawyer Rudy Giuliani.

“In May 2019, Azman was photographed in Paris smoking cigars with Rudy Giuliani, President Donald Trump’s personal attorney, fueling speculation among some in Kyiv that the president’s representative and his colleagues were using the rabbi to provide cover for illicit Ukrainian lobbying activities.

“The Giuliani-Azman meeting seemed to have been arranged by Lev Parnas and Igor Fruman, two Jewish Giuliani associates who have been linked to those lobbying efforts.”

https://www.jewishexponent.com/2021/01/07/one-of-ukraines-chief-rabbis-endorses-siege-of-us-capitol/

2021

On January 7, 2021, the Times of Israel ran an article quoting Azman’s Facebook post in which he expressed support for the January 6, 2021 U.S. Capitol riot.

However, Azman didn’t just support Trump or American patriotism. He explicitly linked Trump supporters to the U.S.-backed (see also here) Ukrainian “revolution” of 2013-2014, known as the Maidan Uprising.

“Following the storming of the US Capitol by Trump supporters, Azman, a Hasidic rabbi who is one of several figures claiming to be the chief rabbi of Ukraine, posted on Facebook that the ‘Maidan has begun in the USA,’ referring to the widespread protests that led to the ouster of pro-Russia President Viktor Yanukovych in 2014. ‘The people protesting against mass election fraud broke into the capital. God bless America.’” (Emphasis added.)

https://www.timesofisrael.com/one-of-ukraines-chief-rabbis-endorses-siege-of-us-capitol-by-trump-supporters/ (archive link)

I tend to think he was speaking spontaneously and sincerely. However, it seems worth pointing out that a literal false flag (a false version of the Chabad flag) was flown at the January 6 U.S. Capitol riot, which many suspect was a deliberate false flag operation designed to create a pretext for removing Trump from office, attacking his supporters as anti-government domestic terrorist extremists, and so on.

Screenshot from the “Chabad-Deprauvich” blog at https://chafrauddepravitch.wordpress.com/2021/03/12/clearer-shot-of-the-chabad-moshiach-flag-at-the-the-capitol-riot/

In any case, Azman’s rival, Bleich, rejected the comparison and said Ukrainian rabbis shouldn’t comment about “American politics.“

The Times of Israel referred to each, diplomatically, as “a chief rabbi,” but went on to say that Bleich was “the only one recognized as such by the World Jewish Congress and the European Jewish Congress.” (emphasis added)

2021

Kolomoisky is listed as President of “United Jewish Community Of Ukraine.”

Bleich

2015

Meeting with then-President Poroshenko.

http://www.jewishheritage.org.ua/en/3372/chief-rabbi-of-ukraine-yaakov-bleich-attended-a-meeting-with-the-president-poroshenko.html

2016

Poroshenko announces Holocaust memorial initiative at event attended by Bleich, Alfa Group, Ukrainian businessman Victor Pinchuk, Democratic U.S. Senator Joe Lieberman, and other notables.

2018

Strangely (even he admits it’s strange)—Bleich becomes “incumbent head of the ecumenical council overseeing church matters in Ukraine.”

2022

Bleich is frequently written about and photographed with notables. (It is not necessary to publish a laundry list.)

Working With The Corrupt Can Ensnare Rabbis Themselves

It is perhaps important to mention that Rabbi Azman is from Russia whereas Rabbi Bleich is American. According to Wikipedia the latter lives in America, not Ukraine. Vadim Rabinovich, Azman’s ally, stated that Azman “speaks no Russian and comes to Ukraine twice a year.’” What is an American doing as Ukraine’s Chief Rabbi?

Separately, in 2019, Rabbi Bleich in 2019 got caught in what he called an “identity theft” situation in which $100 million was moved around in his name, he says without his knowledge or involvement.

More concerningly, as reported by Frum Follies, on June 2, 2019, blogger Chaim Shaulson reported that Bleich resigned from another organization, the Conference of European Rabbis (CER), after an internal investigation of an allegation or allegations against him of an unspecified nature. (The CER “is the primary Orthodox rabbinical alliance in Europe.” – Wikipedia https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Conference_of_European_Rabbis)

“Rabbi [Yaakov] Bleich [Chief Rabbi of the Ukraine] resigned from the Conference of European Rabbis after Dayan [Menachem] Gelley [Av Beth Din of the London Beth Din of the United Synagogue] went to America and examined the suspicions against him [Bleich].”

Yerachmiel Lopin at Frum Follies, citing Shaulson (screenshots below) https://frumfollies.wordpress.com/2022/02/17/ukraines-yaakov-bleich-resigns-from-conference-of-european-rabbis-after-investigation-from-the-2019-archives/

Lopin notes that the CER removed mention of Bleich from its website in March 2019 and suggests the “resignation” was a way for Bleich to avoid public embarrassment.

“The recent resignation follows his earlier removal from the Conference’s website which I reported on March 31, 2019. Before his removal he held a number of important positions at the CER including membership on their Executive Council and their Presidium. I read this resignation as a face-saving move by Bleich to avoid public expulsion.

https://frumfollies.wordpress.com/2022/02/17/ukraines-yaakov-bleich-resigns-from-conference-of-european-rabbis-after-investigation-from-the-2019-archives/

On June 3, 2022, more than three years later, Lopin reported that the Board of Deputies of British Jews was breaking ties with the European Jewish Congress (EJC).

Lopin says “reliable sources” have told him that the issue is the EJC’s “lack of response” to “concerns” about Bleich “sexually abusing” “girls and women.”

“Earlier this week (May 31, 2022) peak UK organization, the Board of Deputies of British Jews announced on Twitter that it was suspending its cooperation with the European Jewish Congress “due to concerns about how the Congress is handling misconduct complaints.” According to reliable sources this action grows out of reports about Chief Rabbi of Ukraine, Yaakov Bleich, sexually abusing of girls and women.”

https://frumfollies.wordpress.com/2022/06/03/major-british-jewish-organization-acts-over-concerns-about-ukraine-rabbi-yaakov-bleich/

To be fair, Lopin notes, Bleich is still listed on the EJC’s website as Treasurer, and no victims have publicly named him as far as I know.

However, a previous article by Lopin (archive link) quoted an apparently well-known Ukrainian blogger (“muckraker”) Alexander Dubinsky, who on May 6, 2019, called Bleich a “sexual molester” and “pedophile.”

Further, victims of sexual crimes, not to mention child victims, are normally reluctant to come forward. This is especially true in the Jewish religious community.

Finally, Lopin has been blogging on the topic of sexual abuse in the Jewish community for many years, so when he says he has “reliable sources,” I consider that credible.

The EJC for its part “completely rejects claims that it has mishandled alleged complaints” and appears to be saying that they are investigating the claims.

2022 “Russia Invasion” Fundraising

After Putin invaded Ukraine, both rabbis began successfully fundraising to support the evacuation of Jewish people from the country.

“The two men — Rabbi Yaakov Bleich and Rabbi Moshe Azman — have since the Russian assault on Ukraine began a week ago each posted a series of dramatic videos about their efforts to evacuate Jews and raised millions of dollars to support them.

Jacob Kornbluh, “A tale of two rabbis: Meet the men with dueling claims to be the leader of Ukraine’s Jews,” Forward [a Jewish publication], March 3, 2022 [archive link]

Funding Turns Rabbis Into Propaganda-Spouting Puppets

Both rabbis also both made various statements about the conflict.

Yet given how much control the oligarchs have over the rabbinate worldwide, how much money and social pressure is involved, it is obvious that they cannot speak freely.

An even worse situation may occur when the oligarch, and the extended network within which the rabbi and the oligarch operate, make it socially and pragmatically impossible for the rabbi to avoid supporting them on issues of importance to their agenda.

Perhaps, frighteningly, the rabbi will even convince himself that the talking points are true, in an effort to justify how they are being used for propaganda.

It is a close jump from group pressure to spouting the oligarch’s talking points and by extension the messaging of the elite.

This is all a very dangerous road, of course, as propaganda, psychological operations, “false flags” and the like are tools of war and genocide.

See Also—Follow-Up Posts:


By Dr. Dannielle Blumenthal (Dossy). All opinions are the author’s own. Public domain.

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