A wave of emigrants from the Israeli-Russian community has been caused by “dire living conditions” in Israel, claims an Israeli technician of Russian origin. Writing in Yedioth Ahronoth, Igor Teller is an Israeli aerospace and mechanical engineer and technology entrepreneur. He described the dire living and economic conditions of his fellow immigrants to Israel, saying that they are exploited by all political parties. At the same time, Teller lamented that many of his fellow immigrants have opted to leave Israel because no one cares about them.
“Try to imagine how painful it was for them to leave ‘our land,’ in which we are supposed to be free people,” he wrote. “So why did they leave?”
The Russian immigrants played a big role in developing the Israeli economy, claims Teller, but got nothing in return apart from an apartment and a mortgage. “The Russian-speaking public is not just a part of the middle class; it is the driving force of it,” he insisted. “There is no doubt that the aliyah [the migration of Diaspora Jews to Israel] from the former Soviet Union was one of the main causes of Israel’s economic prosperity over the last two decades.”
Russian-speaking immigrants were not eligible for free housing, noted Teller in his op-ed, and as most were in their forties and fifties they could not build up a pension fund. “They worked in Israel for about 20 years, usually taking jobs far beneath their level of education and training, and now they are retiring. These people barely made ends meet and moved down to a lower social class only to be ‘free people in our land’.” A third reason for their departure, claimed Teller, is the “glass ceiling” which prevented his fellow Russian from achieving professionally and economically.
The Russian community in Israel has been under the spotlight in the current election campaign. A report in Britain’s Guardian newspaper appears to confirm Teller’s claim about under-achievement: “Some found themselves marginalised in the early days, consigned to low-paid and low-status jobs, and with doubts cast over their Jewishness,” wrote Harriet Sherwood. “Israel granted citizenship to anyone from the former Soviet Union with a Jewish parent or grandparent, or who was married to someone meeting that criteria, rather than the strict matrilineal descent required by Jewish orthodox law.”
Indeed, added Sherwood, “According to Israel’s central bureau of statistics, about 30% of immigrants from the former Soviet Union in the 1990s were not considered Jewish under orthodox law, a figure that rose to 59% in 2005. Only a small proportion has formally converted to Judaism.” This is borne out by the location of one of the interviews cited in the Guardian: “a large supermarket in the coastal city of Ashdod, where more than 50 brands of vodka are available alongside pork chops, bacon, sausages and ham.”
Despite this apparent lack of any indication that they are Jews, Sherwood points out that the ex-Soviet immigrants have had a “marked” impact on Israeli politics. “The rise of Lieberman, the ultra-nationalist former foreign minister, himself an immigrant from Moldova, is attributed to solid support among the Russian-speaking community for his uncompromising rightwing agenda: opposing concessions to the Palestinians, supporting settlements and seeking to curb the rights of Israel’s Arab population.” Analysts have suggested that around one-sixth of the seats in Israel’s parliament, the Knesset, will be attributable to the “Russian vote” in this week’s general election.