The condition of Russian Jews in Israel (by a Russian Jew living in Israel)

Israeli society is not as united as the right wing would like us believe. Apart from the Israeli Arabs (the Palestinians who stayed in Israel in 1948) the Jews who emigrated from Russia have also suffered discrimination.

To many people outside Israel, Israeli society may look like one united mass that is working together to survive in the difficult political reality of the Middle East. This impression, however, has changed a little after the so-called "Middle East peace process" began and after Rabin was assassinated, but some elements of this myth are still present in European public opinion. In reality Israeli society is no more united than, for example, American society. In both cases we are talking about an immigrant society, that is made up of diverse nationalities and cultures, which are widely different from each other, the same differences that you find between different ethnic and religious groups.

In Zionist ideology the image of a full-blooded Israeli is that of a blond and young Israeli man born from a family of European origin. The most memorable form of discrimination was against Jewish immigrants arriving from Asian and North African countries between 1950-1980. These people had limited rights in every area of society: in education, in the public services, in the job market and even in the army. At the same time Israeli propaganda described Israel as a "Home for all Jewish people"!

Only after a long struggle did the Jews from the East get formally the same rights as the rest of Israeli society. But even to this day they are the poorest and least educated section of the Israeli population (that is, if we exclude the Israeli Arabs). For example 80% of the people kept in Israeli criminal prisons are from Eastern immigrant families.

The Israel rulers had another chance to demonstrate the racist character of the Israeli state at the beginning of the 1990s when a massive Jewish emigration from the Soviet Union began. Zionist propaganda presented it as a great victory of Zionism among the Russian Jews. In reality most of these immigrants came to Israel not for ideological reasons, but because their lives had been destroyed as the result of the collapse of the Soviet Union. We can say that most of these people were refugees escaping the impending restoration of capitalism in the former Soviet republics.

Zionist propaganda in Russia, carried out by the Jewish Agency (Sochnut), presented Israel as a rich and democratic western country were everybody could find their place. They even talked about the "socialist traditions" of Israel! But for the great majority of the 800,000 immigrants that arrived in Israel reality was somewhat different. In Israel they found all the elements of a capitalist system. Thousands of people to this day still have no homes and live in old hotels and caravans. They discovered that in the USSR the health service and the education system had been much better than in Israel.

Most of the immigrants didn't find a job in Israel and today immigrants from Russia represent the biggest section among the unemployed. Even those who found a job didn't find one in the profession they had been trained for. Today in Israel we can see a lot of former Soviet engineers, medical workers, even scientists, who have ended up working in casual jobs in the factories. Many of these even consider themselves lucky in these conditions, having escaped the capitalist hell in Russia and in the other former Soviet republics.

But this is not the only problem that immigrants from Russia (the "Russians" as they are called in Israel) found here. The Israeli establishment was worried that the emigration of a big mass of people with a high level of education might provoke a serious change in Israeli society. Most immigrants have a very negative view of the situation where the religious authorities control every aspect of private life and a small Israeli oligarchy (of a hundred families from north Tel-Aviv) controls every area of the Israeli economy and the media.

The capitalists were the first to notice the revolutionary potential of the Russian emigration. Their decision was clear, they used the old principle of imperial rulers: "Divide and rule". The Israel media were the first to open the attack against immigrants from Russia. "Half of them are KGB agents, half belong to the Russian Mafia and the rest are prostitutes", "It is not the great emigration that we were expecting!", "All our economic problems are due to the Russians!" was the main line of the Israeli press. To the people living in the poorer areas the government said: "You complain about unemployment? You know that all our financial reserves go to the immigrants, they took your jobs!"

The result of this campaign was discrimination and isolation of the Russians immigrants. Many people became victims of racist attacks. Unfortunately anti-Russian feelings were strong among the Jewish families of eastern origin.

However, the Israeli establishment could never have succeeded in this policy without the support and co-operation of the leaders of the Russian speaking community in Israel. Most of them were well-known in the West as "dissidents" who had fought for the right of Jewish emigration from the USSR. But the reality in Israel reveals that these people are not genuine defenders of human rights. They are nationalists and racists. Many of them are famous in Israel as activists in racist organisations among the Jewish settlers in the West Bank and Gaza.

In 1996 the well-known former dissident Anatoly (Natan) Sheranskii established a Russian immigrant party, "Israel-be-Aliy". In the previous government of Barak, Sheranskii was the Interior Minister. But in this office he didn't reveal himself as a defender of human rights. He did nothing to change the situation where foreign workers are forced to live in conditions of Mediaeval slavery. He did nothing to defend the human rights of women, Arabs, or even of his own electors - the immigrants from Russia. At the same time he never failed to express his opposition to every agreement with the Palestinians and with the other Arabs countries. Sheranskii said that Israel could make peace with the Arabs only when they became a "democracy'". He forget to say that Israel must became a democracy too.

As a result of this situation most immigrants from Russia became disillusioned in Israeli politicians and in the Israeli political system. Unfortunately, the Israeli Communist Party (IKP) didn't use this possibility to create a strong base for itself among the Russian immigrants. The "Communist" leadership was convinced that most of the "Russians" would support the right wing parties, and to work among them would be a loss of time and money.

Without any left and Communist influence, the "Russians" in Israel began moving to the right on the political map. Most people that joined the right wing extremist groups in the last five years were convinced that all the problems of Israel were due to the so-called "left wing police establishment" that controls every aspect of Israeli life and that they believed were ready to sell-out Israel to the Arabs at any moment!

It's very difficult now to explain to these people that the United Israel Party (the former Avoda, former Socialist Workers' Party), a bureaucratic party, has nothing to do with the real left movement. Only a genuine Marxist party can change this situation and create a united front of Israeli workers in the name of socialism and for genuine peace in the Middle East.

Artem Kirpichenok,
Israel, 10th November, 2000