Israel Palestine Infos
April 27, 2013
The Russians Came
WHEN THE huge immigration wave from the
First of all, because we believe that all immigration is a good thing for the country. This, I believe, is generally the case.
Second, because we were convinced that this specific group of immigrants would push our country in the right direction.
These people, we told ourselves, have been educated for 70 years in an
internationalist spirit. They have just overthrown a cruel dictatorial system,
so they must be avid democrats. Many of them are not Jews, but only relatives
(sometimes remote) of Jews. So here we have hundreds of thousands of secular,
internationalist and non-nationalist new citizens, just what we need. They would
add a positive element to the demographic cocktail that is
Moreover, since the pre-state Jewish community in the country (the so-called
“yishuv”) was largely shaped by immigrants from Czarist and early revolutionary
Or so we thought.
THE PRESENT situation is the very opposite.
The immigrants from the former
They continue to speak Russian. They read their own Russian newspapers, all of them rabidly nationalist and racist. They vote for their own party, led by the Moldavian-born Evet (now Avigdor) Lieberman. They have practically no contact with other Israelis.
In their first two years in the country, they mainly voted for Yitzhak Rabin of the Labor party, but not because he promised peace, but because he was a general and was presented to them as an outstanding military man. From then on they have consistently voted for the extreme Right.
The very large majority of them hate Arabs, reject peace, support the settlers and vote for right-wing governments.
Since they now constitute almost 20% of the Israeli population, this is a major
WHY FOR heaven’s sake?
There are several theories, probably all of them right.
One I heard from a high-ranking Russian official: “During the Soviet era, the
Jews were just Soviet citizens like everybody else. When the
Another theory goes like this: “When communism collapsed in
I noticed these attitudes when I visited the
I went to
MY FRIENDS and I have been meeting every Friday for some 50 years. When the Russians started to arrive, our “table” was in Tel Aviv’s Café Kassit, the mythological meeting place of writers, artists and such.
One day we noticed that a group of young Russian immigrants had established a “table” of their own. Full of sympathy – as well as curiosity – we joined them from time to time.
At the beginning it worked. Some friendships were struck up. But then something curious happened. They distanced themselves from us, making it clear that for them we were only some uncultured Middle Eastern barbarians, unworthy of association with people brought up on Tolstoy and Dostoyevsky. Soon enough they disappeared from our view.
I was reminded of this last Friday when an unusually heated discussion broke out at our table. We had a guest, a young “Russian” female scientist, who accused the Left of indifference and a patronizing attitude towards the Russian community which had caused it to turn to the right. A leading female peace activist reacted furiously, arguing that the Russians had already come to the country with a near-fascist attitude.
I agreed with both of them.
Leaders like David Ben-Gurion treated Zionist immigration as if it was merely a
transportation problem. They went to extraordinary lengths to bring Jews from
all over the world to
This was true of the mass immigration of German Jews in the 1930s, the Oriental
Jews in the 1950s, and the Russians in the 1990s. When the Russian Jews showed a
marked preference for the
The Israeli Left was no exception. When some feeble efforts to draw them to the peace camp were unsuccessful, they were left well alone. The organization to which I belong, Gush Shalom, once distributed 100,000 copies of our flagship publication (“Truth against Truth”, the history of the conflict) in Russian, but when we received only one sole answer, we were discouraged. Obviously, the Russians did not give a damn for the history of this country, about which they do not have the slightest idea.
TO UNDERSTAND the importance of this problem one must visualize the composition of Israeli society as it is (I have written about this in the past). It consists of five main sectors, of almost equal size, as follows:
Some of these sectors overlap to some minor extent, but the picture is clear. The Arabs and many of the Ashkenazim belong to the peace camp, all the others are solidly right-wing.
Because of this, it is absolutely imperative to win over at least sections of the Oriental Jews, the religious and – yes – the “Russians”, to create a majority for peace. To my mind, that is the most important task of the peace camp at this moment.
AT THE end of the furious debate at our table, I tried to calm down the two sides:
“No need to fight about sharing the blame. There is quite enough for everybody.”