Russian Jewish oligarchs seem to embrace Israel. The major reason behind their interest in the Promised Land is its non-extradition statute: Israeli law generally bans rendering a Jew to foreign prosecution. Israel is also notoriously lax on money laundering and foreign tax evasion: police investigate money laundering only when it coincides with a major tax evasion in Israel. Another reason why Russian oligarchs love Israel is because she is a backwater village to them, susceptible to inexpensive takeover.

Russian and Ukrainian oligarchs invariably participate in those countries’ elections; large business there is inseparable from politics. The costs and difficulties involved in Russian and Ukrainian politics dwarf those of Israel. It is not unusual for a Ukrainian oligarch to spend $10-30 million for his own tiny party in parliamentary elections; contributions to large parties, especially in Russia, run much higher. Parliamentary seats are sold at $4-10 million apiece. In comparison, the power in Israel comes on the cheap. Russian oligarchs see Israel as a political investment opportunity. For them, it is not only or even primarily a matter of profiting from politics, but mostly a way to realize their dreams of power. They come so close to power in Russia and Ukraine, but are always vulnerable to anti-Semitic rulers. In Israel, the oligarchs can finally dominate.

Israeli politics is very provincial. Even a no-one called Netanyahu rose to power by hiring American campaign managers and investing relatively little in advertising. Peace Now became prominent by using forty-year-old tricks of political campaigning. Russian and Ukrainian oligarchs possess vastly more sophisticated experience in managing political campaigns and imagine they can influence Israeli politics efficiently.

The oligarchs are far smarter than average Israeli politicians; it’s hard to find a person sillier than an average MK. But it takes luck rather than genius to become an oligarch in Russia, and the magnates often overestimate their political power. The oligarchs are hapless in politics, consistently losing their political investment on the advice of cheating campaign managers.
Thus we see Michael Cherny and Vadim Rabinovich’s investments in Lieberman going sour; after short-term success, Lieberman the phony predictably loses his support base. Cherny and Rabinovich bet on militant Russian identity in Israel, but once that idea failed to bring Lieberman’s electorate substantial improvement, they weren’t able to redefine his platform. With Likud making inroads into Lieberman’s Russian audience, and ad hoc parties such as the Pensioners’ taking their share of Russian voters, Lieberman’s project is doomed. Lieberman will retain some supporters—those bent on taking him for a messiah—but their number will guarantee him only an insignificant position in the Knesset. It is possible that Lieberman can heat up his voters with demagoguery once again, but his trend is downward. Lieberman’s case is the first Israeli instance of a phenomenon that is widespread in the Ukraine: parties which depend on lone oligarchs are doomed. The oligarchs cannot allow their parties to be strongly anti-government, and so the parties lose their opposition identity, becoming mild and unattractive for voters. Lieberman’s oligarchic sponsors do not rationally depend on the Israeli government, as they make money elsewhere, but so far they habitually avoid alienating the ruling establishment.

Or consider a Jew with an odious last name, Gaydamak (gaydamaks are the worst anti-Semitic strain of Cossacks). He partners with KGB/FSB in many businesses, from Soviet foreign debts to weapons sales, but now he has miraculously transformed into an Israeli philanthropist. Gaydamak was always frank about his social and eventually political ambitions in Israel. After the years of being derogatorily called “Arkasha” by his KGB overseers, Gaydamak wants to become a political boss. His entourage of Israeli advisors is laughable, though; they play the king rather than trying to make him. In the Israeli political vacuum, Gaydamak’s bizarre political party may win asmany as fourteen seats, but will hardly enter the Knesset in subsequent elections. Messianically minded Jews have elected a number of such single-session parties, and almost none of them has ever staged a comeback. Gaydamak’s sensible social slogans target voters across the political spectrum, thus making him dangerous to every politician. Upon entering the Knesset, Gaydamak would likely be ostracized by his fellow politicians. He can make a decent political figure: not prone to petty corruption and not very left.
Like other very rich Jews, Gaydamak cannot be rightist or Jewish: such a stance would offend his Gentile friends and business partners. Olmert likewise describes Bush, whose peace process is killing the Jewish state, as very friendly; Jewish values and interests are an uncivil obstacle to the friendly chatting of ex-Jews with fellow Gentiles. It is impolite to stubbornly insist on Abraham’s right to Hebron and Jacob’s right to Schem when a powerful, friendly Gentile wants to help you out of that mess with the Arabs that his predecessors set up. It is ludicrous to speak of Jewish choseness, the truth of Judaism, and the religious right to the land at business meetings and debauched parties. Gaydamak, accordingly, spends money to alleviate the harm done by defeatism rather than helps to achieve the victory; he helps Sderot refugees rather than outpost settlers.

Lev Levaev comes very close to being the fifth column. His major income source, trade in Russian diamonds, wholly depends on Putin’s whims; Levaev, therefore, has to dance carefully to Putin’s tune. And so Levaev sponsors the alien Russian culture in Israel; instead of integrating the Russian Jews into the Israeli milieu, they are kept distinct. Levaev also fosters political ties between Israel and anti-Semitic Russia; his role is especially dangerous because of his contacts in the highest political echelons of Israel. Levaev cooperates with Putin, and—for example, on Angola diamonds—with Mossad’s ex-chief Danny Yatom. It is plausible that he acts as a link between them, essentially abetting high treason. Levaev, like other oligarchs, is leftist: an aggressive, religiously charged Jewish state is not good for his business. Superficially, Levaev supports Chabad charities, but his own shopping malls work on Shabbat. The Jewish schools Levaev sponsors in Russia and Ukraine are thinly disguised assimilationist shops which teach formalized religion, which is hateful to the children, instead of the real Judaism and Jewish values. Levaev is a typical religious atheist who separates God from business. Like Vyacheslav Kantor and so many others, Levaev chose a respectable position as Putin’s court Jew instead of simply being a person true to Judaism.

The latest Russian Jewish oligarch who has established a connection with Israel is Roman Abramovich. He survived Putin’s purges of Jewish oligarchs, and exhibits absolute loyalty to the Russian regime; and a shred of loyalty to anti-Semitic Russia amounts to treason against Israel. Abramovich is far richer than any other Israeli oligarch and, considering his extravagant spending habits, can reach almost any political goal, if only temporarily. There is no doubt that Abramovich would be as left and pro-Russian as the other oligarchs. He has a history of social mega-projects in Chukotka, a far Siberian region where he serves as absentee governor. Abramovich is therefore likely to follow in Gaydamak’s steps, starting with huge cocktail parties and ending with pompous welfare projects. Given Abramovich’s track record of keeping a low political profile in Russia, he is unlikely to exhibit political ambitions in Israel.

Putin’s tremendous influence on Russian Jewish oligarchs presents a problem. Putin is very different from previous Russian leaders: he is not a nomenclature bureaucrat who carefully charts his course, but a petty KGB officer turned corrupt businessman turned politician turned tsar. Putin is, in a sense, rootless; he lacks political fundamentals. His thinking is that of the proverbial “new Russian” businessman, entirely lacking strategic dimension. The nearest Western analogy is of a spoiled and not particularly bright child who suddenly became a large company’s CEO. Putin is unpredictable; he makes moves based on curiosity and desire to show his power. Now the Putin-controlled Jewish magnates can establish control over Israel. They can spend much more on elections than any Israeli party, and invest more in the electoral-oriented welfare than any charity. In all likelihood, the MAPAI-built security apparatus of Israel will grind the oligarchs. And we shouldn’t pity them.