Finders, Keepers

To:Vladimir Putin, President, Russian Federation My dear Vladimir, "The Russian Embassy in Tel Aviv [is trying] to persuade Russian emigrants to return," Haaretz daily newspaper reporter Anshel Pfeffer wrote, on December 10. You want your human capital back. But it's not about money. As always, your national pride seeks redemption. According to Pfeffer, you want to counteract the image of Russian anti-Semitism by luring back your Jews who left. It won't work, Vladimir. Finders, keepers. We love our ex-USSR Jews. And we're keeping them. When Gorbachev surprisingly dissolved the USSR, Jews began to pour in to Israel -184,300 of them in 1990 alone, and 882,600 of them between 1990 and 2001. Our Russian immigrants have changed the face of Israeli society, business and politics. If we place a crude economic value on each immigrant - half of whom were at prime working ages of 25-54 - we find their total value is close to an entire year of Israel's Gross Domestic Product, or about $125 billion. This far exceeds the total influx of financial capital for the same period. The Russian engineers who made aliya in the 1990s were the rocket fuel that propelled Israel's high-tech entrepreneurial boom. They still do. More Russian engineers made aliya than graduated from the Haifa Technion since 1924. We could not properly run our companies, hospitals and schools without them. And the immigration continues, albeit a trickle. In 2006, we got 6,388 Russian olim, aged 15 and over, including 1,447 scientists and engineers, 174 doctors and dentists and 1,500 professional and technical workers. Some say, the Russians make aliya and then leave. Israel is only a stepping stone. False. According to the Central Bureau of Statistics, of the 882,600 olim who came between 1990 and 2001, only 65,000 left. Of those, a sixth returned to Israel. We know, Vladimir, that your popularity rating in Russia exceeds 81 percent. You have turned Russia around, many Russians believe, from a chaotic failure under Yeltsin to a booming modern economy today. But this is a myth. According to Michael McFaul, political science professor, and Kathryn Stoner-Weiss, a researcher, writing in Foreign Affairs, your destruction of Russian democracy "over the last several years has reduced [economic] gains from what they would have been had democracy survived." Basically, Vladimir, you won the lottery. Russia is the world's second largest oil producer, just behind Saudi Arabia, and the world's largest natural gas producer. Oil and gas prices have soared. Without this, there would be no Russian economy. "Putin arrived on the scene at a good time in Russia's economic cycle," McFaul and Stoner-Weiss write, "and got even luckier as oil prices rose worldwide." You became acting president exactly eight years ago and will complete your second and last term in March 2008. You have chosen Dimitri Medvedev as your successor. Medvedev, in turn, says he will appoint you prime minister. Really, Vladimir. Who are you kidding? This is simply another way to create a King Putin dynasty. We know you hold the high 6th Dan black belt in judo and that you are famous for your harai goshi (hip throw). But your best hip throw is this upcoming democratic transition of power, which is no transition at all, but an ippon, or in judo, a full defeat of the opponent, in this case Russia's freedom. And Vladimir, about anti-Semitism. We have not forgotten it. We are grateful to the USSR for bearing the brunt of the war against Nazi Germany and mourn your enormous loss - 20 million casualties. But my own mother and father emigrated to Canada from Bessarabia (now Moldova), then Russian-controlled. They and others have not forgotten the Russian saying: Strike the Jews and save Mother Russia. So, President Putin, let me deliver this message as simply and as clearly as possible. Jews who live in freedom everywhere fought hard for decades to free the Russian Jews. We in Israel love them. Sure, they have faults. We all do. We are not giving them back. As children like to say: Finders, keepers. Losers, weepers. The writer is academic director, TIM-Tel Aviv.