Boris Shpiegel was elected the first president of The World Congress of Russian Jewry.
Shpiegel, a member of the Russian Duma, will head the umbrella organization, which advocates and lobbies on behalf of Russian-speaking Diaspora communities in 27 countries.
The well-known philanthropist was elected almost unanimously during an executive conference Monday in Moscow. Shpiegel is expected to make a large financial contribution to the organization.
Not everyone is happy with the choice however, with at least one delegate openly speaking out against the candidate’s possible conflicts of interest, particularly regarding Russia’s perceived support for Hamas.
“I’m not happy. Even if he’s a bright person, such an organization shouldn’t be headed by someone from any government,” said Inna Arolovich, president of the American Association of Jews from the Former Soviet Union. Hers was the single no vote.
Shpiegel serves in the upper house of the government Duma, or Federation Council, whose members are not directly elected, but appointed by regional politicians. This adds to the sense that, as political appointees, they are beholden to their patrons.
Shpiegel denied any incongruity between his dual roles, and emphasized the congress’ work in protecting Jewish business, legal and social interests abroad. “I don’t think there will be any conflict of interest,” he told JTA, “because the congress and the state are both taking care of the people.”