JERUSALEM — Israel is grappling with how to deal with dozens of Jewish Russian oligarchs as Western nations step up sanctions on businesspeople with ties to Russian President Vladimir Putin.
A worried Israeli government has formed a high-level committee to see how the country can maintain its status as a haven for any Jew without running afoul of the biting sanctions targeting Putin's inner circle.
On Monday, Israel's top diplomat promised that his country would try to help enforce sanctions on Russian oligarchs that have been levied by Western powers like the U.S. and the U.K.
"Israel will not be a route to bypass sanctions imposed on Russia by the United States and other Western countries," Israel Foreign Minister Yair Lapid said. "The Ministry of Foreign Affairs is coordinating the issue together with partners, including the Bank of Israel, the Finance Ministry, the Economy Ministry, the Airports Authority, the Energy Ministry, and others."
Several dozen Jewish tycoons from Russia are believed to have taken on Israeli citizenship or residency in recent years. Many have good working relations with the Kremlin, and at least four have been sanctioned internationally.
Israel finds itself walking a fine diplomatic line amid Russia's invasion of Ukraine. On one hand, Israel shares democratic values with Ukraine and the West, and its security rests on a strong relationship with the U.S. On the other hand, it cannot afford to alienate Russian President Vladimir Putin due to his country's stronghold position in Syria. That position has allowed the Israeli Air Force to operate against Iranians in the region.
As a result, Israel is playing a delicate balancing act, taking in Jewish Ukrainian refugees and providing humanitarian aid to Ukraine but not sending military assistance. But as the war in Ukraine drags on, the pressure to provide military support could increase.
Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy, the world's only Jewish head of state besides Israeli Prime Minister Neftali Bennett, has publicly pressured Israel to offer more support amid the Russian invasion.