Brash Ukraine Oligarch Vadim Rabinovich Challenges Europe's Jewish Leaders

Upstart Calls Out Establishment — Even After Assassination Try

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By Cnaan Liphshiz

Published October 30, 2013.
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(JTA) — The explosion that ripped through Vadim Rabinovich’s luxury SUV in central Kiev was strong enough to send a shock wave from the parking lot up to his third-floor office in the heart of the Ukrainian capital.

“It was a shock for a day or two,” Rabinovich said, “and then I moved on.”

The 60-year-old media mogul and Jewish philanthropist views the March 4 explosion as an attack on his life. He has accused Andrey Derkach, a businessman and former politician, of being responsible, telling the Ukrainian media that Derkach had tried to bully him into selling JN1, the Kiev-based television station specializing in Jewish news that Rabinovich launched a couple of years ago.

Derkach has denied the accusation and threatened to sue for libel. The police are still investigating.

“Now I have an armored car,” Rabinovich said. “And that’s the only thing that has changed.”

If a brush with death isn’t enough to cow Rabinovich, it’s hard to see what will. Over the years, the feisty oligarch has battled Ukrainian authorities, business rivals and Jewish community leaders, some of whom have expressed resentment about his ongoing efforts to challenge the old guard of European Jewish institutional life.

But the relentless criticism, like the explosion, has not had its intended effect.

“You can’t please everyone,” Rabinovich said. “That’s life.”

In an interview with JTA this month, he was clad in his typical uniform of jeans and sneakers, a get-up he has been known to wear to occasions where everyone else is in business attire. Rabinovich has a limited appreciation for formalities and, as he puts it, “little patience for nonsense.”

In the 1980s, Rabinovich was arrested and sentenced to 14 years in prison for black market ventures, but wound up serving only seven years, according to Korrespondent, a Ukrainian weekly. Rabinovich says he was jailed on “trumped-up charges,” but the United States to this day has barred his entry as a result, he confirmed to JTA.


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