One of the Russian Jewish community's most prominent supporters of President Vladimir Putin is set to be appointed head of the country's Keren Hayesod, also known as the United Israel Appeal.
Boris Spiegel, a deputy and committee chairman in the Russian parliament, already serves as president of the World Congress of Russian Jewry, an organization that works with the Kremlin as a bridge with the millions of Jews who emigrated from the country.
Keren Hayesod is the central fundraising body for Israel around the world, with the exception of the United States. It raises tens of millions of dollars annually for efforts such as absorbing immigrants into Israel, developing communities in the periphery and Jewish education in the Diaspora.
Spiegel's selection surprised many observers in Russia, as he is widely viewed as following the Kremlin's official line regarding Russian-speaking Jews.
Israeli officials believe the Putin government seeks to deepen the links between the millions of Russian citizens who have emigrated in recent years, particularly the roughly 2 million of Jewish descent now living in Israel, North America and Germany.
Six weeks ago, during Russia's conflict with Georgia, Spiegel condemned Georgia's leaders in the name of the World Congress of Russian Jewry, claiming they should be tried for war crimes and genocide against the residents of South Ossetia.
"We, as a people who suffered genocide, cannot stand idly by," he said.
A former Zionist activist from Russia now living in Israel said he doubts whether Spiegel's interests line up with those of Keren Hayesod.
"There is a definite contradiction between the goals of the [Jewish] Congress with Spiegel at its head, and the Keren Hayesod. Keren Hayesod is meant to strengthen the ties of Jews to Israel, and Spiegel's Congress does just the opposite," the former activist said, requesting anonymity.
Avi Pazner, world chairman of Keren Hayesod, told Haaretz: "I don't want to see him faulted for being an associate of Putin. He is a Russian Jew and he is a senator from Putin's party, and it's totally legitimate that he adheres to our positions."
Pazner emphasized, however, that his organization is non-political, and devotes its resources to Jewish, Zionist and humanitarian activity.