In the run-up to next week’s election for the European Jewish Congress, the race for president has turned into a grudge match between a Frenchman and a Russian, both freshly minted millionaires.
On one side is the incumbent, Pierre Besnainou, a Tunisian-born Internet tycoon who lives in Paris. His challenger is Moshe Kantor, a Russian industrialist with close ties to the Kremlin.
The 21-year-old EJC is an affiliate of the World Jewish Congress and comprises the heads of Jewish communities in 43 countries. Besnainou won his current term as EJC president in 2005 and quickly locked horns with Kantor, chairman of the EJC’s board of governors, accusing him early last year of engaging in “blackmail” after Kantor said he would give the organization a donation of $475,000 only if he could have oversight of the money.
At elections for the WJC a few weeks ago, Kantor took on Besnianou by walking out of the room to protest comments the Frenchman had made to Moscow’s chief rabbi.
In his two years at the helm of the EJC, Besnainou has tried to make it more independent of other global Jewish bodies. Several European Jewish figures have privately expressed concern that Kantor, owner of one of Russia’s largest fertilizer firms, is seeking to take over the EJC with his wealth. Kantor counters that he is merely seeking to give a stronger voice to Eastern European Jewry after years of domination by Western European countries.