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House the Oligarchs?

(Martin Meissner/AP)
(Martin Meissner/AP)

The principle of Israel as a home for every Jew should have exceptions. Israel’s lack of self-awareness when it comes to its public relations (PR) strategies has time and again profoundly impacted the Jewish community outside the borders of our homeland. In the diaspora, Jews more often than not find themselves in awkward dinner conversations or cornered in online debates about bizarre stances (or lack there of) the Israeli government takes on issues where true Western democracies are in lockstep with one another.

Israel will inevitably take a harder line against Russia, but their reluctance to do so up to this point has troubled Israel’s most important partners. Not just policymakers, but the citizenry of Israel’s critically allied states. We can speculate on the reason for Israel’s ambivalent governmental policies during this pivotal moment in history, but we’ll fail to come to any sort of conclusion that makes sense. What we should examine is the extent to which Israel is willing to appease Russian interests, defy the West, and take active steps to tarnish the Israeli global brand.

Sanctions? – No Thanks:  Israel is the Jewish homeland, and a safe haven for Jews from around the world. But there are bad Jews out there, Jews that aren’t worthy of having a safe haven. It is in Israel’s interest to take hardline stances on bad Jews who turn to Israel as a last resort not because of an existential threat, but because they are running from the law and have nowhere else to turn. In the past, Israel has repudiated ‘Crazy Eddie’ and Meyer Lansky, acting in accordance to the norms of international law, and attempting to frame the Israeli state as one where law-breaking individuals won’t be able to hide behind the Law of Return. Another words, just because your Jewish, doesn’t mean that Israel, without question, should grant you citizenship. In the case of the oligarchs, the precedent is set, and there should be no exceptions. If the U.S. demands that Israel refrain from providing a refuge for these bad actors, then Israel should abide.

In a Haaretz article this week, Shuki Sadeh detailed the backgrounds of eight oligarchs who “in theory could exploit their being Jewish and find refuge – for both themselves and their money – in Israel”. Of the eclectic bunch, six individuals have already received Israeli passports, which in my view, should be temporarily revoked. As Putin’s bedmates, these ‘shondas’ have had decorated careers in corruption-riddled industries, including oil and gas trading, Kremlin-based banking, ‘infrastructure’, and so on. Depriving these bad actors of a physical and financial ‘safe zone’ is low-hanging positive PR for the Israeli global brand, and a unique opportunity to make a symbolic gesture to the West which will unquestionably be well received by Israel’s allies. Israel should open it’s borders to as many Ukrainian refugees as possible, and close their borders and temporarily revoke the citizenship of Kremlin-corrupted criminals who do nothing but harm the Israeli brand, global citizenry, and the planet more broadly.

About the Author
Coby Schoffman is a San Francisco-based serial social entrepreneur and Founder of The Nation Foundation. Schoffman received a MSc in Transnational Security from New York University and has a demonstrated history of working to craft complex, community-driven solutions in high conflict zones.
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