The Israeli paper Haaretz, reported yesterday that Leonid Nevzlin, whom I described last year as the Russian oligarch “who got away,” just purchased 20% of the company’s shares. Its value: 700 million shekels. This leaves the legendary Schocken family, owners of the paper since 1937, with a 60% stake (David Remnick recently had an illuminating profile of Amos Schocken), and the publishing company DuMont Schauberg of Cologne, Germany, with the last 20%.
It’s still too early to say what this means for the paper, but Nevzlin is a fascinating character who only barely escaped the fate of Mikhail Khodorkovsky, his onetime business partner, when he arrived in Israel in 2003. He has since remade himself into a Jewish philanthropist, bolstering projects that promote ” Jewish peoplehood,” an amorphous but currently trendy notion. His biggest project has been resuscitating Israel’s Diaspora Museum.
My immediate thought was that this offers proof that a left-wing exists among the Russian Jews of Israel. The popularity of Avigdor Lieberman and his party has allowed people to see this population as monolithically hard-right. For the influence-seeking Nevzlin to invest so much to (let’s be honest here) prop up what Israelis see as a leftist brand means that the paper and its editorial line must have sympathizers among the Russians. It’s also hard to imagine Schocken, not an easy man (see again Remnick’s portrait), joining with Nevzlin unless he felt some kind of political kinship with him.
For more on Nevzlin’s colorful background, here’s my profile of him from last fall.
Gal Beckerman is the Forward’s Opinion Editor. He was previously an assistant editor at the Columbia Journalism Review where he wrote essays and media criticism. His book reviews have appeared in The New York Times Book Review and Bookforum. His first book, “ When They Come for Us, We’ll Be Gone: The Epic Struggle to Save Soviet Jewry, ” won the 2010 National Jewish Book Award and the 2012 Sami Rohr Prize for Jewish Literature, as well as being named a best book of the year by The New Yorker and The Washington Post. Contact Gal Beckerman at firstname.lastname@example.org or follow him on Twitter at @galbeckerman