Political and community leaders of the Russian-speaking community in Israel expressed concern Tuesday that the brutal murder and sexual assault allegedly by a Ukrainian immigrant in Rishon Lezion on Saturday could spur racism against all immigrants from the former Soviet Union.
Speaking exclusively to The Jerusalem Post, Immigrant Absorption Minister Sofa Landver said that while it was important to report such terrible crimes in the media, "the ethnic background of a person has nothing to do with whether they are a murderer or not."
"If [the person arrested] was not of Russian descent then there would be no further discussion, but because he is from a Russian-speaking country, there is an outcry with everyone pointing out that he is Russian," she said, emphasizing that the rise in violence and crime in Israel over recent years "is not based on ethnic identity."
Landver was commenting after police reports identified a former IDF combat soldier, Andrey Lushchenko, 24, who made aliya from Ukraine in 1996, as a suspect in the murder of Rishon Lezion resident Sergei Kolsnikov, and of sexually assaulting Kolsnikov's mother for a 24-hour period after the murder.
Kolsnikov's case comes three months after the murder of the six-member Oshrenko family was described as Israel's worst murder. Dimitry Oshrenko, his wife Tatiana, their two young children, Revital and Natanel and his parents, Ludmilla and Edward were brutally murdered in their Rishon Lezion apartment on October 17, with police arresting Russian immigrant Dimitry Olegovich Kirilik, his wife Nataliya and other members of his family suspected of perpetrating the crime.
"Every time something like this happens, it increases racism against Russian-speaking immigrants," said Marina Zamsky, head of the Forum for Immigrant Families in the North.
"Immediately after the Oshrenko family was murdered we heard talk that it was Russian immigrants again, however if the Oshrenkos or those behind the crime came from any other ethnic background, they would not automatically taint an entire community," she said, adding that "as soon as people hear a Russian name, they create stereotypes of all the community."
While Zamsky cautioned that she does not represent the entire Russian-speaking community in Israel, which has been estimated at more than one million people, she also says that it is not only the public that is guilty of stereotyping but also those who hold positions of authority.
"The biggest danger that I see right now is that these kinds of events create stereotypes among professionals who are supposed to be helping our community," she said, adding that Forum for Immigrant Families in the North is currently working together with the Immigrant Absorption and Welfare and Social Services Ministries to train professionals to be more culturally sensitive.
Kadima MK Marina Solodkin, who emigrated from Russia in 1991, told the Post, however, that the debate was less about racism and more about the failed absorption of many Russian-speaking immigrants.
"Obviously what has happened is awful," said Solodkin, a former deputy immigrant absorption minister. "But I am more worried about the social changes happening here. Why is this happening here [with Russian-speaking immigrants] and not in the US or in Australia?"
Solodkin, who pointed out that there has been a rise in crime among immigrants from the FSU, said one of the main problems was the stark rise in alcohol consumption among immigrants here, as well as difficulties in integration and learning Hebrew.
"I believe that politicians who represent the community need to get together and look at what is happening," she said. "Something has happened to the community over the last 20 years and we need to know why."