Russian protester holds up communist flag 521.
(photo credit: Reuters)
As thousands of Russians brave freezing cold temperatures to protest alleged
irregularities in national elections that will virtually ensure the continued
rule of Vladimir Putin, their former countrymen who pulled up stakes and
immigrated to Israel don’t seem the least bit interested in their
In Ashdod, which has one of the highest concentrations of olim
from the former Soviet Union, the sentiment is one of apathy and
“I don’t feel much of a sense of belonging [anymore with
regard to Russia],” says Vicki, an account manager in her 40s who was one of
nearly a million former Soviet citizens who immigrated to Israel in the
After 20 years in the country, nothing could be further from her
mind than Russian politics.
“I haven’t totally disconnected myself from
what is going on there, but I just don’t see how it impacts me personally,” she
says. “So I’m willing to listen and hear the news, but not at the expense of
things that are happening here in Israel.”
Most Russian immigrants who
agreed to talk to Metro subscribe to the conventional wisdom that the people in
Russia – who have become accustomed to living under the thumb of strongmen
dating back to the czar – are simply not ready for democracy.
from Ukraine, Vicki says she is “amused” at the way Russians “allow others to
constantly step on them without ever learning their lesson.”
country like Russia, you have to have a strong leader,” says Sophia, a
50-something pharmacist from Netanya. “Almost like a tyrant who needs to hold
the country together. Otherwise there won’t be any order there.”
may not be a beacon of human rights, but he is credited by some here in Israel
with stabilizing a country that was in tatters.
“He’s a KGB man,” Sophia
says. “And he did bring order there a bit. There probably were irregularities,
and the elections weren’t democratic, but Russia doesn’t know any other way.
Ideally, we all want democracy, but it doesn’t fit there.”
vast cultural links that the Russian-speaking community in Israel maintains with
the motherland – Russian musicians frequently perform here while satellite
television networks from Russia serve as the main source of news, information,
and leisure viewing for veteran olim from the FSU – the brazen decision by
pro-democracy demonstrators to challenge Putin has failed to inspire optimism
that much will change.
“The Russian-speaking community in Israel is
comprised of various groupings,” says Nadia Gimpelowitz, a 29-year-old nursery
school assistant in Ra’anana.
“There are those who don’t really care about what goes on in Russia because they
immigrated here from a different Soviet republic or because they immigrated when
they were very young and they consider themselves Israelis who have no
connection to their birthplace.”
Gimpelowitz – young, idealistic and
plugged in to the chatter that has dominated social media these last few weeks –
seems to buck the trend of the older generation of Russian-speakers who are more
inclined to entrust their faith to leaders with larger-than-life personalities,
not unlike Israel’s Foreign Minister Avigdor Liberman, a politician who is
perceived as having cornered the market on the Russian-speakers’ vote.
don’t watch the news from Russia but I do know what has been happening there
from the moment it was revealed that there were irregularities in the
elections,” she says. “I have friends here in Israel and there in Russia who
feel that this is an important issue. I wouldn’t know about what is going on in
Russia without Facebook and 9GAG [a site devoted to satirical takes on current
events making headlines].
But now that I’m up-to-date, I’m pretty
involved. I even planned to go to the protest demonstration in front of the
Russian embassy, but it didn’t work out schedule-wise.”
If the younger
generation feels it has sufficiently assimilated into Israeli culture to the
point that events in Russia fail to make an impression, then, according to
Gimpelowitz, the older generation of Russian-speakers remains wedded to “a fixed
“The Soviet mentality says that the regime comes above
everything else,” she says. “That it’s best not to deal with it and the people
should sit quietly on the sidelines and say thank-you that they are even allowed
to breathe. Liberman is popular here in the eyes of people with a Soviet
mind-set, but not every thinking person is really enamored with him. But he is
indeed popular because of his image as a man of strength.”
people] are involved in Israeli politics, and rightly so because they are
Israeli,” she continues.
“My friends and I are unusual in this regard,
especially me, and this is only because I know people who have gone out to
protest in Russia and also because I’m idealistic, and I think that Putin is
worse than Stalin.
“On the whole, Russia is a country that needs to be
torn down and built back up again,” she says. “It’s just a shame that the people
who were capable of doing this ran away from there or are now in
Ilana, a 31-year-old clothing store manager in Ashdod, made
aliya 13 years ago after having grown up in the Siberian town of Novosibirsk.
Her attitude reflects the mainstream thinking of FSU immigrants about the
relevance of events in Russia to their lives.
“I don’t follow the news
from Russia because I live here and I’m connected to my country,” she
“Plus, the news isn’t really interesting. I have no interest in
politics. I talk to my mother, who lives in Russia, every day over Skype. But
she’s a pensioner who needs to work in order to make ends meet because the
pension there is just not enough to get by on. But we don’t talk about the
political situation there because it doesn’t concern me and I’m more preoccupied
with my personal affairs here in Israel.”