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Orthodox group honored two Giuliani associates now under arrest

(JTA) – On Wednesday night, Oct. 9, federal authorities arrested Igor Fruman and Lev Parnas and charged the Ukrainian-American businessmen with campaign finance violations related to the burgeoning Trump-Ukraine scandal. Six months earlier, on March 31, the two were among the guests of honor at the annual dinner of the National Council of Young Israel, an Orthodox synagogue association.

The man who invited the two, Joseph Frager, had met Fruman and Parnas at a fundraiser for President Donald Trump in June 2018 and said he had no idea that they were allegedly breaking campaign law. “It sounded like they were wealthy, and I didn’t know all this matter that came out afterward,” Frager, Young Israel’s first vice president, told JTA on Oct. 10. “I didn’t know about it at the time. It is shocking.” 

Young Israel, which has more than 100 member congregations in North America, has sparked controversy among its affiliate synagogues for its outspoken advocacy of right-wing causes. Earlier this year, the group was the first American Jewish organization to support Israeli Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s brokering a deal with an extremist right-wing political party. Nearly two dozen Young Israel synagogues signed a statement in protest and asked the national group to refrain from commenting on political issues. One of those congregations later left the Young Israel movement.

Frager said he met Parnas and Fruman at a pro-Trump America First Action SuperPAC event in Washington, D.C. in June 2018. Frager said the two men saw his yarmulke and approached him, and he convinced them to join a trip he was running to Israel and the West Bank that also included former Trump Communications Director Anthony Scaramucci, who was honored by Young Israel in 2018. “I was trying to motivate them, further cultivate a relationship with them that would ultimately lead to them helping a lot of causes I’m involved in, in Israel,” Frager said.

At the gala in March, Parnas and Fruman were honored with the Chovevei Zion, or Lovers of Zion, award. Frager says he gave the two men the award – among a larger group of honorees – so that they would donate to Young Israel. But none of it resulted in a donation. “I don’t know them at all. I did ask for a donation after the dinner and I didn’t get it,” Frager said.

Fruman and Parnas also are members of the U.S. board of Friends of Anatevka, an NGO run by a politically connected Ukraine rabbi, Moshe Azman. Azman wants to create a refuge for Jews fleeing eastern Ukraine, where there is a conflict between Ukraine forces and Russian-backed separatists.

Main Photo: Igor Fruman, left, and Lev Parnas are Ukrainian-American businessmen who have been arrested with campaign finance violations related to the burgeoning Trump-Ukraine scandal. (Getty Images/JTA Montage)

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