Israeli extradition practices

Israel’s Law of Return grants all Jewish people (and anyone with a provably Jewish grandparent) the right to settle, and immediately claim citizenship, in Israel. This right has been used by numerous Jewish criminals around the world to evade justice in their home countries, with Israel having always been extremely reluctant (and, at times, completely unwilling) to extradite its criminals abroad.

In 1954, Israel’s second prime minister Moshe Sharett amended the Law to state that Jews “with criminal pasts, likely to pose a threat to public welfare” be excluded from the right to automatic Israeli citizenship. Instead, the minister may choose to deny applications at their discretion. This has not, however, prevented Israel from sheltering known criminals and protecting them from justice. In 1962, an American Jew convicted of espionage against the USA committed suicide while on his way back to his home country to face trial on further charges; this prompted outcry in Israel, and then-Opposition Leader Menachem Begin spoke out strongly against extradition.

In 1978, Israel legislated to actually forbid itself from extraditing Jews abroad, instead offering to try Jews domestically for crimes they committed in other countries. The immediate context of this was that in 1977, Israeli fraudster Reuben Pesachowitz was extradited to Switzerland after unsuccessfully arguing in Israeli courts that he shouldn’t have to go, because Switzerland didn’t extradite its own citizens to face justice abroad. This case, again, prompted outcry in Israel. Then, “controversial” French-Israeli businessman Shmuel Flatto-Sharon (who himself was “controversial” because he’d been on the run from France since 1972 for allegedly embezzling USD$60 million) ran for the Knesset, hoping to procure parliamentary immunity for himself to guarantee he could not be extradited to face trial for embezzlement. Once elected, he offered to support Menachem Begin’s coalition government on the proviso that they legislate to bar Israel from extraditing its citizens. So, in 1978, this became law.

The laxity of Israeli law became controversial in the late 90s, with the case of Samuel Sheinbein. Sheinbein was an American teenager who (with the help of a non-Jewish friend) murdered a Latino boy in Maryland in 1997. Once the victim’s body was found, Sheinbein’s father swiftly arranged to fly him to Tel Aviv and procured him an Israeli passport, making him immune from extradition. After a lengthy court case, Israel duly refused to extradite him, and instead sentenced him to 24 years in an Israeli prison, where he was allowed to go out on the weekends and apparently pampered with luxurious conditions. Sheinbein eventually died in 2014 in a shoot-out with prison guards. Sheinbein’s father, meanwhile, lives free in Israel, despite still being wanted in the US for helping his son escape – that crime is considered only a “misdemeanor” in Israel, so it’s non-extraditable.

Israel changed its law in 2005, because even the Israeli public could see that enabling Jewish people to escape justice for murder was going too far. Nonetheless, as Jewish victims of child sexual abuse in Australia can attest, Israel continues to protect Jewish criminals and throw up roadblock after roadblock to try to forestall their extradition. There is, for example, the case of Malka Leifer, a former headmistress at a notorious “Adass Israel” school in Melbourne, who fled to Israel to escape trial for 74 charges of child sexual abuse. She lived free there for over a decade in a West Bank settlement, continually claiming in court that she couldn’t be extradited due to “poor health”. There were also allegations that Israel’s Home Affairs minister – a member of the same extremist sect as Leifer – was using his ministerial authority to protect her by blocking the department from taking further action. Eventually, the investigations of Israeli tabloids turned up enough evidence that she was in absolutely perfect health and just living the high life in the absence of justice, that the Israeli government was forced to bend to public pressure and extradite her after all.

There are also other criminals who remain at large in Israel. For example, at least two French Jews – Joseph Ayache, sentenced to jail in 2016 for organising attacks on Palestinians and Muslims; and Gregory Chelli, sentenced in 2022 for organising a harassment campaign against Palestinians so severe that one elderly man died from a heart attack due to the stress – boarded planes to Tel Aviv to escape justice. Two US-Israeli dual nationals, Baruch Ben-Yosef and Keith Fuchs, remain at large in illegal West Bank settlements despite being “wanted for questioning” over the 1985 murder of Palestinian-American activist Alex Odeh via car bomb.

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