26 years of Russian aliya: Segregation, poverty and police brutality

Some 26 years have passed since the big Russian aliya to Israel started with the fall of the Iron Curtain.

Russian speaking Jews take part in a havdala event at Princeton University. (photo credit: ROSS DEN)
Russian speaking Jews take part in a havdala event at Princeton University.
(photo credit: ROSS DEN)
Some 26 years have passed since the big Russian aliya to Israel started with the fall of the Iron Curtain. Over a million repatriates from the former Soviet Union came to Israel, where they became “Russians.” This aliya is still referred to as a “blessing” for the State of Israel. This large wave of newcomers brought tens of thousands of engineers, doctors and scientists to the country. But despite the olim’s substantial contribution to Israel’s economy, education and culture, their problems aren’t addressed but rather keep piling up, while being completely overlooked.
“Russians” are still facing discrimination in the media and in academics – racist slurs and stereotypes are ever present. For example repatriates are still portrayed as violent drunkards, though statistically they drink less alcohol than average Israelis and participate in less violent crime. The glass ceiling is more impenetrable than ever. Even for those who grew up in Israel – the percentage of “Russians” in senior positions and public office is much lower in proportion to their percentage within the Israeli society. There are no “Russian” CEO’s in the ministries, which means that they are being ignored for and not considered for promotions.
Conversion programs turned into a farce, all attempts to liberalize the system failed. “Nativ,” the conversion program in the army, which helped newcomers embrace their Jewish identity, is frozen.
Just being “Russian” and walking down the street is reason enough to get harassed, wrongfully detained and/or beaten by the police. Of course, the buck doesn’t stop there: a Russian does not need to even go for a walk to get “special treatment.” A 14-year-old boy was detained, brutally beaten and thrown behind bars in Rishon Lezion. The reason for his arrest and for the police brutality that drove him to the psych ward is still unknown. The internal affairs unit closed the investigation of this case several months ago due to “lack of public interest.” A young girl was severely beaten and her skull fractured in Ashkelon in June this year, by policemen who stormed a vehicle that she was in.
They suspected there were drugs in the car but found nothing, and didn’t even apologize.
This is just the tip of the iceberg. On July 9 during a special meeting with the internal security minister police have openly admitted that “Russians” are treated more harshly, despite the fact that they are more law-abiding then other groups within Israeli society.
The percent of “Russian” inmates in the Israeli prison system is proportionally low compared to the percent of “Russians” in Israel.
Meanwhile the country is on the verge of a poverty outbreak: 200,000 elderly “Russians” will basically get peanuts for pensions, as they will soon be retiring.
200,000 people who spent about 20-25 years in the Israeli workforce are going to find themselves below the poverty line after retirement. Their pensions are going to be about 2,000-3,000 shekels (with social benefits) a month, through no fault of their own. They are used to working hard to support themselves and their families, but they can’t work forever. Their children will have to support them, stepping in since the parents can no longer support themselves financially.
This money will be taken out of savings – for example, from funds dedicated to covering college education for kids, thus putting a financial burden on yet another generation. In other words – sabra grandchildren will pay for their grandparents’ wellbeing by lowering their own social status.
Over two months ago the “Forum of Russian-speaking Israelis” was created by a group of olim who came to Israel at a very young age. Journalists, researchers, sociologists and PR-professionals – they have united to work on solving all the problems mentioned above before the “Russians” hit the streets like the “Ethiopians” did several months ago. This group is following a concept of “Russian Israel,” which was published on the Internet in Russian and in Hebrew. They are not only organizing protests, but also seeking ways to ease the burden and to raise awareness among Russian- speaking Israelis.
For example, a flash-mob was organized by the forum on Facebook, targeting the repatriates’ problem of unreasonably small pensions, which will turn the “Russian” retirees into paupers the very minute they retire. Thousands of “Russians” shared slogans and posters, calling Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to find solutions to the problem. MKs from different parties supported this action. Newspapers and other media outlets covered the story and some progress was made: a governmental commission will discuss the matter and look for a solution.
The forum is also targeting the problem of police brutality: its members have already met with the internal security minister (July 9) and the justice minister (August 10). The “Russians” have presented statistics and reviews of outrageous cases of baseless violence toward repatriates. Additional meetings are planned for the near future.
Members of the group have a variety of political views, but they are united behind one idea: Israel is the homeland of Russian Jews and it is supposed to treat them as equal citizens.
The author (born May 10, 1974 in Odessa) is an Israeli Russian-speaking journalist. He repatriated to Israel on December 18, 1990 and is a former analyst and correspondent for The Jerusalem Post and several leading popular newspapers, magazines and news agencies in Russia.
Worked for the TzaMaM analytical research company collecting and analyzing data on political, economical and security issues in Southern Asia; coordinated and conducted daily review of the activities of the ex-Warsaw bloc secret services.