Albert Einstein was initially opposed to the concept of Zionism, fearing it could stoke Jewish-Arab conflict, but with the rise of Nazism and the concomitant antisemitism he experienced in Europe, he became convinced of the need for a Jewish State as a haven from persecution.
Einstein was at the California Institute of Technology in February 1933 when Adolf Hitler became the new Chancellor of Germany. By the time Einstein and his wife Elsa reached Belgium on their way back to Europe, their German home had been raided by the Nazis, so they renounced their German citizenship at Belgium’s German consulate and returned permanently to the U.S.
When Chaim Weizmann, Israel’s first president, died in 1952, Prime Minister David Ben-Gurion offered the office to Einstein, who declined, saying
“I lack both the natural aptitude and the experience to deal properly with people and to exercise official functions I am the more distressed over these circumstances because my relationship to the Jewish people has become my strongest human bond, ever since I became fully aware of our precarious situation among the nations of the world.”
Shortly before his death in 1955, Einstein wrote
“The establishment of Israel is an event which actively engages the conscience of this generation. It is, therefore, a bitter paradox to find that a State which was destined to be a shelter for a martyred people is itself threatened by grave dangers to its own security. The universal conscience cannot be indifferent to such peril.”
To me, Einstein’s story illustrates that, however successful and established diaspora Jews may be, ominous trends within that country can force them to flee. Already there are parts of Europe where there is an alarming rise in antisemitism, and Jews are starting to feel very insecure.
Note that Einstein’s reasons for supporting a Jewish State was the persecution they faced; he talked of “a shelter for martyred people” and their “precarious situation”.
Consistent with this ideal, Israel has taken in many Jews who were expelled from Arab lands, Russian and other Jews escaping persecution, and has organised mass airlifts of Jews from Ethiopia and Yemen. This is a genuine ingathering of the exiles, fulfilling Israel’s purpose and (for believers) the biblical promise:
INGATHERING OF THE EXILES (Heb. קִבּוּץ גָּלֻיּוֹת kibbutz galuyyot). The belief in the ingathering of the exiled communities is repeated time and again, especially in the prophecies of Isaiah, Jeremiah, and Ezekiel. It is first mentioned in Deuteronomy 30:3–5. After the details of the destruction and exile are described (Deut. 28:63–64; 30:1), the promise is given that “the Lord thy God will turn thy captivity and have compassion upon thee, and will return and gather thee from all the peoples, whither the Lord thy God hath scattered thee. If any of thine that are dispersed be in the uttermost parts of the heaven, from thence will the Lord thy God gather thee, and… bring thee into the land which thy fathers possessed.”
Israel was the promised haven for the exiles and those who had been held in captivity, where they could live as free people in their own land they. It was never intended – neither in the bible, nor when Theodore Herzl’s Zionist dream became a reality, as a refuge for Jewish criminals and fugitives from justice.
This right of Jews to live in Israel was enshrined in The Law of Return, enacted by the Knesset, Israel’s Parliament, on July 5, 1950. The law declares:
“Every Jew has the right to come to this country as an oleh. … Those who immigrate to Israel under the Law of Return are immediately entitled to gain citizenship.”
However, this inherent right for Jews to return has sadly been abused by criminals and other miscreants throughout Israel’s short history, discrediting both Israel and Jews worldwide.
In Australia, the most recent egregious example of exploiting the Right of Return is Malka Leifer, former Principal of the Adass Israel school in Melbourne, who after being accused of serial cases of child sex abuse, fled to Israel, with the help of her community, in order to escape justice. Despite there being an extradition treaty between Australia and Israel, she managed to enlist the help of Israeli psychiatrists, who testified that she was unfit to stand trial because of her mental condition. Fortunately this now appears to have been exposed as false, as surveillance over many hours showed her living a normal life. It is to be hoped, especially for the healing of her alleged victims, that she will soon be back in Melbourne have to face trial for her alleged crimes.
France has also had its share of Jewish exploiters, as this article, Are French Jewish criminals using Israel as a get-out-of-jail card? illustrates:
An authoritative voice and phone credit was all Gilbert Chikli needed to steal millions of euros from seasoned bankers and businessmen in his native France.
One of France’s most famous criminals, the 50-year-old Chikli was sentenced by a Paris court to seven years in jail for defrauding dozens of telephone victims out of more than $8 million in 2005-06 while he was living in Israel.
But Chikli is living as a free man in Israel — the country has no extradition treaty with France.
Now his story is getting a fresh look because of a new and controversial French film … based loosely on the Chikli saga. Coming at a time of rising Jewish emigration from France to Israel, the French-language feature “Thank You for Calling” is drawing attention in both countries to a criminal fringe of French Jews for whom aliyah serves as a get-out-of-jail card.
In Chikli’s case, he scammed his victims from Israel by presenting himself as a secret service agent in need of their help or as the president of the financial enterprise where they worked. After building trust and preying on victims’ insecurities or vanity, he persuaded them to empty accounts belonging to their clients.
Chikli, a tall and handsome man, fled France in 2009 for Israel through a third country while French police were working to indict him. He already had spent three years in jail awaiting indictment, but was set free that year due to a lack of evidence; the prosecution presented its evidence only in 2011. Far from disputing his 2015 conviction, Chikli has bragged to the media about his technique, which he labeled “the president scam” in an interview he gave to i24 TV.
“When it works,” he boasted, “you get off on it. Because you’re 5,000 kilometers from Paris with a telephone and a 100-euro calling card and you can make 10 million euros” (over $11 million). Eloquent and self-confident, Chikli told France 2 in an earlier interview: “I’m not a crook. I’m a player, and it was a game to me.”
Chikli says he has a good life in Israel, where he deals in real estate. He even recently earned an undisclosed amount, estimated at several thousand euros, from consultancy services he gave to Pascal Elbe, the French-Jewish director of the new film based on his story, which generated unprecedented attention on Chikli in the mainstream media as the symbol of an Israeli-French underworld that is out of reach of French authorities because of the complications in extraditing suspects from Israel. Likewise, suspects in France are out of reach of Israeli authorities because French laws restrict extradition only to EU member states.
This attention is troubling to many French Jews, including Avi Zana, director of the nonprofit Ami Israel, which helps French immigrants in Israel integrate into their new society.
Zana said the apparent presence of a few dozen French criminals in Israel is a “normal result of an increase in French aliyah It does not suggest any proclivity to criminality” among French immigrants to Israel. The crooks among the newcomers, are detested by the rest of us, who feel they give us and Israel a bad name.”
Elbe said he anticipated the film “would be a divisive” among French Jews, but decided to make it anyway because “the subject is fascinating and anti-Semites can’t be allowed to intimidate us into self-censorship.”
Last year, Israeli prosecutors charged 10 recent immigrants from France for alleged telephone scams, cyber crimes and real-estate fraud — all involving France-based victims. The exact number of French citizens thought to be evading authorities in Israel is unknown, but France has sent to Israel at least 70 formal requests for judicial assistance with cases involving suspected fraud by dual nationals residing in the Jewish state, according to a 2014 expose..
French aliyah has been rising steadily. The 7,238 newcomers in 2014 tripled the number of French immigrants in 2013, and aliyah rose again in 2015, to nearly 8,000 immigrants. Experts attribute the growth to violent antisemitic attacks and a stagnant economy in France.
There have been many examples of people fleeing to Israel to evade justice. This is a stain on Israel’s reputation, and indeed on Jews everywhere. Israel has enough social problems of her own, having to integrate often impoverished Jews from many different countries, as well as supporting the shnorrers within the ever expanding ultra-orthodox community who procreate prolifically and insist on living on welfare, straining Israel’s scarce resources, while refusing to serve in the IDF.
It’s wonderful that Jews make Aliyah, and Israel has benefited from the vibrant mix of cultures from all over the world, but the country should not become the dumping ground for Jewish criminals and fugitives from justice. This would be a real Chillul HaShem (Desecration of G-d’s name) and defeat the purpose, both secular and religious, of having a Jewish Homeland..