Ukrainian billionaire to head European Jewish council
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Ukrainian billionaire to head European Jewish council

BERLIN (JTA) — A billionaire with Israeli and Ukrainian citizenship was named the new president of the European Council of Jewish Communities.

With the surprise announcement of the appointment of Igor Kolomoisky at the council’s annual conference currently meeting in Berlin, the ECJC becomes the second major European Jewish organization to be headed by a Jewish man from the former Soviet Union.

The other is Moshe Kantor, a billionaire philanthropist with Russian and Israeli citizenship who heads the European Jewish Congress, which traditionally has dealt with political issues related to Israel and European relations. Now the ECJC is claiming a part in determining the role of European Jews as the third pillar of Jewry, next to Israel and the United States.

Speaking at the Berlin conference, which is being hosted in part by German-Jewish organizations, outgoing ECJC President Jonathan Joseph of Britain said the choice of Kolomoisky reflects "a new paradigm that really draws together East, Central and Western European Jewry as a united front" for Israel, against anti-Semitism, and for a stronger European Jewish voice on an array of issues.

Some board members privately expressed surprise to JTA at the announcement; one member reportedly resigned in protest over the lack of consultation with the board. But many at the gathering acknowledged that the ECJC badly needs a financial rescue and that Kolomoisky, with his longtime Jewish commitments, may provide just the answer.

The council represents Jewish communities and organizations in some 40 countries, going beyond the official European Union boundaries to include the countries of the former Soviet Union and Turkey.

Long connected with and supported by the American Jewish Joint Distribution Committee, the ECJC had been forced to look elsewhere for financial support in recent years, said Joseph, who has headed the body for six years, in announcing the transfer of leadership. The weakening U.S. economy "has had an extremely sobering effect," he said, adding that "declining economies" and an "aging leadership" in the U.S. had "led to reduced commitments financially."

Kolomoisky is a major donor to the Jewish community of Dnepropetrovsk. He has been described as the wealthiest man in Israel and the second wealthiest Ukrainian in 2009.

According to the group’s website, the ECJC was established in 1968 as a not-for-profit organization. It has NGO status at the Council of Europe and the European Union, and its main office has been in Berlin for two years.

Among the guest speakers at the event were Israel’s chief Ashkenazi Rabbi Yona Metzger, Israeli Education Minister Gideon Sa’ar  and Malcolm Hoenlein, executive vice chairman of the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations.