I chose to mark the tenth anniversary of my Aliya to Israel with a conference on democracy and freedom of speech in the hopes of catalyzing thinking and action around these issues in my new home and beyond. Sadly, our topic feels truly urgent as I watch many states, some members of the United Nations, call themselves democracies and barely pay lip service to the essence of democracy — freedom of speech.
Leonid Nevzlin is a world-renowned businessperson and philanthropist. Nevzlin occupied various high-ranking positions at Menatep Bank and its holding company Group Menatep. In 1996, as a result of the privatization process initiated by the Russian Government, Group Menatep purchased the Yukos Oil Company and transformed it from a crumbling and failing government firm to the country’s largest oil company that operates according to western values.
For decades Leonid Nevzlin has been a key figure in the Jewish community. He has encouraged the revival of the Jewish life in post-Soviet Russia and served as president of the Russian Jewish Congress. In 2001-2003 Leonid Nevzlin was a member of the Council of the Federation of Russia, performing the duties of the Deputy Head of the International Affairs Committee. Besides representing his electoral region, he was responsible for the Russia-Israel relationships and focused on the Jewish people’s interests in Russia and around the world.
In 2003, when Yukos produced 20% of Russian oil, the Russian authorities started a notorious expropriation campaign against Yukos and its top leaders Michael Khodorkovsky, Leonid Nevzlin and others. The Russian government employed tactics that included levying bogus charges, sham bankruptcy proceedings and bogus tax reassessments. The Amnesty International, the Council of Europe, the U.S. House of Representatives, among many other official bodies, condemned Putin’s campaign against Yukos and its owners as manufactured for political reasons. In 2004, Russia instigated legal proceedings based on trumped up charges against Nevzlin for his involvement with Yukos and requested that he is extradited to Russia. The Supreme Court of Israel (Bagatz) rejected the extradition request, arguing that the evidence Russia had presented to support its claims against Nevzlin were insufficient. Leonid Nevzlin’s struggle against Putin’s tyranny continues to this day.
Since moving to Israel, Leonid Nevzlin has expanded his philanthropic and public work, becoming one of the leading and most recognizable patrons of Jewish philanthropy in the country. In 2003 Nevzlin established the NADAV Foundation, which initiates and supports projects in the fields of Jewish education, Israel-Diaspora relations and Jewish Peoplehood. In 2011 Leonid Nevzlin purchases 20% of the Haaretz newspaper, a veteran key player in the realm of Israeli media.