Veteran immigrants from FSU still seen as 'Russians'

Despite having lived in Israel for more than 10 years, the majority of immigrants from the former Soviet Union believe that native-born Israelis still categorize them as "Russians," according an American Jewish-Joint Distribution Committee (JDC) study published Thursday at the behest of several government ministries working with new olim. The study, which was conducted by social work professor Eliezer Leshem of the Hebrew University and Ariel University, is comprised of some 1,025 face-to-face interviews with veteran immigrants over the age of 18 in their native tongue. Leshem found that the majority of those questioned had been victims of discrimination at some point, and 58 percent claimed the Israeli public never let them forget their ethnicity. More than half (54%) of those approached said they wanted to be seen as Israelis and, in the 18-29 age group, most interviewees considered their Israeli identity to be more dominant than their Russian identity. "This is the most serious study on the absorption and integration of immigrants from the FSU taken since the wave of aliya first started in the early 1990s," JDC Israel-director Arnon Mantver, told The Jerusalem Post on Thursday. "We are finally seeing what happened to more than a million people who made aliya." Mantver said the most integral finding was that close to half (47%) of those questioned considered the language barrier to be the greatest challenge to their aliya and absorption. "Learning Hebrew costs much less than providing an immigrant with a new apartment but it can help them out in all aspects of their aliya," he said. "It goes a long way to solving many of the other problems faced by immigrants." While stopping short of criticizing the Education Ministry for its recent cutbacks to Hebrew language education for new immigrants, Mantver said he would now call on the government to invest as much as possible in the ulpan system. Perhaps the most shocking revelation is that most participants claimed to experience continuing discrimination from the police, judicial system, employment services and the Hebrew-language media. In addition, 36% of parents with children under 18 said their offspring had been discriminated against by their school teachers. A further 46% said that the anti-Russian sentiment was also expressed by their children's peers. Russian-born MK Marina Solodkin (Kadima), who has twice in the past ten years served as deputy Immigrant Absorption Minister, told the Post that racism was an inherent part of the immigration cycle, and that veteran immigrants were sometimes the worst culprits. However, she said, "today it is much less than it was during the 1990s because we (FSU immigrants) have our own police representatives, Knesset members and other politicians in high places who are fighting for respect and recognition." She added that the key was educating the Israeli public to be more humane towards new immigrants.