The decision was a very difficult one for Israel's High Court of Justice. Meyer Lansky, 70, the reputed financial wizard of the U.S. underworld, had been living quietly in Israel for 26 months on a visitor's visa as a "retired business man," and had applied for Israeli citizenship. Was he entitled to claim automatic citizenship, like every other Jew under the "Law of the Return"? Or should Lansky be excluded under a clause in the law that bars Jews with criminal pasts who would endanger the public welfare? Specifically, should two minor convictions and pending charges of income tax evasion and contempt of court back home be considered a criminal past?
After lengthy deliberation the high court's five judges last week unanimously accepted the Israeli government's view that Lansky was a threat. American authorities had accumulated enough evidence to prove Lansky a criminal, the judges ruled, however minor his actual proven crimes. More than that, wrote Chief Judge Shimon Agranat, a Louisville, Ky. native, in the 83-page precedent-setting decision, "the particular phenomenon of organized crime as it has developed in the U.S. has not yet struck root here in Israel. Heaven forbid that we should encourage opening a door for it."
Lansky, whose U.S. passport was revoked after he left the country in 1970, will receive a laissez-passer from Israel, and reasonable time to find some other country to take him in (U.S. charges against him are not covered under extradition treaties with Israel). If he lingers on, said a government spokes man, "he will be taken to the airport and asked to choose a flight."