The "Russian Power" in Israel

by Gad Nahshon

The rise of a Russian party in the 1992 Israeli election was a new manifestation inside the Israeli society: The Rise of 'Russian Power.' Around 20% of Israel's population originated in Russia, or the former Soviet Republics. According to estimates, there is around one million Russians who will go to Israel, perhaps after the year 2000 when the Yetsin regime will be over. There is no new dawn for Jews in Russia and, recently, there was a new wave of official anti-Semitism coming from the Russian parliament itself.

The Russians in Israel developed, like other ethnic groups, a world of their own - a new Israeli-culture in Russian. But their big achievement was their ability to establish a party, an ethnic party 'Israel Balyiah.' Their leaders joined the Netanyahu government. The leader of this 'Russian Revolution' in Israel is Natan Sheransky. It is well known that most of the Russian Olim tend to support the Israeli Righ's ideas and convictions. There are predictions that in the future, these Olim will change their minds and will move into the labor party camp. Recently, Netanyahu's ex-office manager, also a Russian Jew, namely Avigdor Liberman, established a new Russian party.

His test will be on May 17th. Liberman thinks that his party should not be so clannish as 'Israel Balyiah' which, by the way, tries to establish a branch in America. One should ask: what is the source of this 'Russian Power.' In the past there were charges that the Russian Jewish Mafia is in the background. Sheransky claimed that he established the party in order to show that the Russians are not 'mafioners' or 'whores.' Indeed, in the last years, the Russians were smeared by ordinary Israelis who objected to the Russian 'controlling' of Israel, to the Russians who received help from the government in their process of absorption. The Russians have refused to be 'underdogs.' They have moved up, fast, on the socio-economic ladder.

So many Israelis, especially from non-Ashkenazi background, have resented this Russian success story. In many cities in Israel, one could find a terrible tension and confrontation between 'Russians' and 'Moroccans.' An Israeli Russian soldier was murdered by a group of Moroccan Israelis in the city of Ashkelon just because he spoke Russian to his fellows inside a restaurant. The murder shocked the Israelis. Sad to say, ethnicity is an old-new issue in Israel's political life. It is a dangerous kind of fragmentation. Sad to say, many Israelis tend to ignore the contribution of the Russians to the survival and well being of Israel. Their contribution or their absorption is a miracle. It also explains the roots or the origins of the Russian power, their ability to establish an ethnic defense mechanism.

Israel, today, can only celebrate the miracle, the unique achievement of 800,000 Russian Olim who poured into Israel from 1988. They came into society of 4 million Israelis and into a country of only 21,000 square kilometers. These Olim, quantitively and qualitively, were a new blessing. They were at that time a God's present. They enriched Israel with a new sense of national optimism. By integrating themselves into Israel's infra-structure economy, education, science, culture and security, they have guaranteed Israel's 21st century future.

These Jews of the Glaznost or Perestroika era were, first of all, a psychological blessing, boosting the country moral, belief and optimism. They also contributed to counter the Arab world's pressure and siege.

This unique 'Glaznost Aliyah' also released a new process of revitalization of all the aspects of Israeli life. Demographically, 67% of these Olim belonged to the age group of 0-44 and 36% were under the age of 25! As to the gender profile: 40% were females and 60% males. Furthermore, many Olim revitalized various regions such as the Western Galilee and cities such as Beer-Sheva, the capital of the Negev. Indeed, these Olim increased the Jewish majority in Israel. The contribution by these Olim to Israel's well being is based upon their educational profile: 58% had some kind of academic background. They came with the potential that Israel requires for the next century. Their occupational profile was 4% engineers, 4.5% physicians and medical related professionals, 5% teachers or lecturers, 2% musicians and so on. These Olim, through intensive occupational integration and with the help of the Israeli government as well as the host society, are contributing to Israel's economy and especially to the hi-tech industry.

Many contribute to the scientific and academic community as well: 40% of the Tecknion teachers speak Russian. Others teach mathematics in the high schools.

The following case study should illuminate the 'Russian Revolution' inside Israel: In 1989, Israel had 13,000 registered physicians. Suddenly, 14,300(!) physicians poured from the former Soviet Union. Their occupational integration into Israel's medical world is itself a miracle. Today the ration in Israel is 290 physicians to 100,000 compared to 220 in the U.S.A.! Many are also engaged in medical research.

Culturally, they enriched our media, music and drama. You can find a Russian orchestra virtually in every small town in the country. Their Russian Theater 'Gesher' (Tel-Aviv- is internationally acclaimed. These Olim are also to be known as Israel's most devoted new attendees at cultural events. They boosted the standard of quality in many fields of the Israeli civilization.

Of course, these 800,000 Olim have suffered from cultural shock communication blocks and other pains of absorption. During the process of adjustment to the 'new planet' a silent miracle took place and the melting pot was manifested in Israel. It can be symbolized by the fact that Israel's Minister of Absorption, Yuly Edelstein, was born in Russia and made Aliyah.

The first Russian Olim, those pioneer-Zionist settlers who were the 'founding fathers' of Israel, came to Palestine in the first Aliyah a century ago. Their legacy, their torch, is being carried by these 800,000 Olim.

Today, 'Russian Power' is an ethnic power. The Russians are Israelis but also a sub-national group which preserve its culture and mentality. One aspect of this fact is the existence in Israel of Russian press: 4 dailies, 10 weeklies, 20 local papers, and many monthlies and periodicals. Around 20% of Israel's population read Russian newspapers in Israel! Nasha Strana (our country) was the first Russian newspaper in Israel. It was published by the Labor party in 1968. Many other publications were published in the 1970's such as 'Krug', but the point of a great change came only in 1989. The daily Novosti Nadeli ('News of the Week').

In 1991, 'Maariv' decided to go into the Russian new mass market and launched the daily Vremia ('Time') with the famous leader Eduard Kuznetsov as its editor. Later 'Yediot Ahronot', Israel's leading daily, decided to publish its Russian daily Vesti ('News'). According to Avraham Ben Yaakov's article in 'Kesher', Nozu, a publication of the Tel Aviv University's Institute for the Study of Jewish Press, since 1948, a total of 137 Russian dailies, weeklies and monthlies were published in Israel. Israel today is a leading consumer of Russian press and literature as well. This is a unique phenomenon per se. Today, 38.8% of the Russian readers prefer 'Vesti' which express a pro-right line of political orientation; 29.2% prefer 'Novosti'; 19.7% prefer 'Nasha Strana'; and 18.4% 'Vremia'. According to Ben Yaakov, the last three dailies tend to be neutral and pluralistic in their dealing with the Israeli politics. Probably the most prominent journalist-editor in this media is Kuznetsov who, by the way, joined the Avigdor Liberman new Russian party. The quality of the Russian newspaper is high: "The Russian press has a firm place in the Israeli media landscape, a position that is assured for the space of at least another generation" remarked Ben Yaakov. Well, the Israeli idea is to develop one society, a Hebrew-Sabra society. Ben Gurion fought against the coming of ethnic ghettos in Israel. There is a 'Russian Ghetto' in Israel. There are 950,000 Israelis who can read Russian in Israel.

Even those who have lived in Israel more than 10 years still buy Russian newspapers. Will they integrate in the next century into the Israeli mainstream? Recently, Roman Bronfman, an MK of 'Israel Balyiah', tried to give the Russian language a status of second language, after the Hebrew. Some Israelis are afraid from a 'Russian Revolution' in Israel in the next century. They object to the rise of this Russian culture, pushing aside the official Israel Hebrew culture. Why do the Russians need this defense mechanism in Israel? Do they feel a sense of disappointment, discrimination, or cultural shock? When the Russian dismantle their ghetto and their 'Russian Power'?

Israel is a small society. It badly needs a national social unity. It needs to stop the process of social fragmentation. The most painful one is the birth of this new 'ethnic wars', political ethnicity inside Israel. heroes and with many documents of the State Department and the Congress. Of course, some are 'confidential' or 'secret'. Tawil heroes, the ones who carried on the various missions and 'operations Esther' in the U.S.A. and especially in Yemen itself were: Yosef Levy, David Shuber, Shlomo Gerafi, Sir Moshe Bar-Nea, Pierre Golou-bin-off, Lester Smerka, and many others. The groups tool was a new organization, a low key on which was established in New York City, Dec. 28, 1988. The main initiators were: Dr. Tawil, Bar-Nea, Shuber, Shlomo Gerafi, and Rabbi Mitchell Serels.

The name of this new organization was: National Coalition for the Rescue of the Jews of Yemen, also known as ICROJOY (International Coalition). The second 'set' of Tawil's heroes, those officials who tend to listen and help, were: Richard Shifter, former Assistance Secretary for Human Rights and Humanitarian Affairs, David Ransom, former Head of Arabian Peninsula, and former U.S. Ambassador to Bahrein, Charles Dunbar, former U.S. Ambassador to Yemen, Stephen J. Solarz, former Congressman, Ben Gilman, the famous Congressman, Mel Levine, former congressman, Michael Van Dusen, a former Staff Director of the House's subcommittee on Europe and the Middle East and many others.

Tawil and his organization had another different kind of a 'hero', the Yemen's foreign Minister Abdul Karim Al-Iryani. This American educated scholar of genetics had the key for the rescue and the well being of the Jews in his country which tend to have good relations with the U.S.A. America even gives Yemen some foreign aid. Dr. Iryani visited the U.S. and even met with Jewish leaders. But it was not easy to achieve the goals of this organization ICROJOY. You need a lot of courage to go into Yemen in order to find the Jews and then to try and help them.

Dr. Tawil wrote (p. 288): "After working for five years, very hard, all the members of ICROJOY, and especially myself, as the chairman of the organization, all the reward was that I was able to fulfill a great deed. I always was taught by my father: To redeem a person in captivity, be it a Jew or a gentile, is like to redeem the whole world. And this was really a great salvation. And a great mitzvah, a great deed of releasing the prisoner. In Hebrew we call it pidyon shevuyim, which means releasing of prisoners from captivity. To let them live a free life, in a free society, with all the dignity that God bestowed upon us, from the human rights point of view."

Another issue is: The Jewish establishment. Dr. Tawil was frustrated. He could not get the help that he needed. He learned his lesson and decided to work with his devoted members of his small quiet organization. And he learned that the most important secret of success is to be found in people such as Yosef Levy and, of course, his wife and Deputy Chairwoman, Dalia Tawil. Dr. Tawil stressed the fact that his achievements also did demonstrate that "democracy works." Dr. Tawil wrote in his introduction (p. 3 & 4): "The narrative in this volume provides a basis for analyzing the performance and positions of America's myriad Jewish organizations, both political and philanthropic.

Along with the largest Jewish population in the world, the United States is home to federations of all types that wield great power on Capitol Hill and in the State Department and White House. Why did the influential men and women who run these organizations, Jewish professionals at ease in the highest circles, fail to win the Jews of Yemen their freedom, leaving the job for the likes of Yosef Levy and company? And what of the Israeli government and the Mossad, its celebrated intelligence agency: what did they do, and why were their maneuvers overshadowed by Washington's?" And he goes on to explain:

"On a more practical level, Operation Esther is a lesson in democracy, showing that Everyman, without vast financial resources and the assistance of professional lobbyists, can win the attention of the people he elects to high office. According to Richard Schifter, former Assistant Secretary of State for Human Rights and Humanitarian Affairs, the inexperienced few injected order and coherence "into a situation in which there was turmoil and confusion." Their work was "highly regarded by the United States Government, both by the State Department and by members of Congress."

David Ransom, former Arabian Peninsula chief in the State Department, noted that their effort was "multilateral, requiring endless contacts between groups and officials who did not always see eye to eye on tactics or even ends. [They] melded [their] concerns with those of the existing diplomatic situation and put forward programs and agendas which were the basis for unprecedented successes in dealing with an isolated and uncertain community of Jews who had long been out of touch with their brothers in America. A splendid example of Americans who sets out to do privately good works which governments cannot always manage." In the pages of Operation Esther, you will meet these heroes."

Of course, there were Jewish leaders or officials who helped Dr. Tawil, but he expressed pessimism as to the level of effectiveness of this huge Jewish establishment. Dr. Tawil is also far from praising Israel. He and his friends found, over there, a sense of indifference to this issue. It was hard for Israel, officially, to interfere because it was a very sensitive, diplomatic issue. Of course, Israel did care about the fate of these Jews. Well you need a lobby in Israel to get the right focus.

In this book, Tawil tells the untold story of his secret relations with the Mossad that knew about the existence of 2,000 Jews or 1,500 Jews in Yemen. Often the Mossad did help him, but in page 269, Tawil claimed that the Mossad or Israel's government, did not like the fact that he was too independent for their taste. "But Richard Shifter had stood firm and resisted." There were some conflicts with Israel. Many Israelis such as Shuker and Gen. (ret.) Avigdor Kaholani, entered the sensitive picture. But Tawil argued that his American organization, a neutral one, can achieve the goals. Because of the reality of the Israeli-Arab relations.

The following is the Dec. 28, 1988 establishment of the new organization:

Whereas, the plight of the last remnant of Jews stranded in North Yemen demands the alerting of the American people and the mobilization of all Jewish communities and organizations; whereaS, recent and desperate calls for help received from North Yemen confirm earlier reports and fears that the condition of Yemenite Jewry is deteriorating rapidly; whereas, the suffering of these persecuted Jews is unbearable and the sorrows of divided families grow more intolerable; therefore, we, the undersigned, hereby establish the:

National Coalition for the rescue of the jews of yemen

Our Aims:

  1. To inform the United States congress, American and world opinion, the media, Human Rights institutions of the United Nations and the civilized world of the plight of the Jews of North Yemen.

  2. To demand the release of Jewish women raped and kidnapped.

  3. To stop the enforced conversion of Jews to Islam and allow the "Marranos" to return to their Jewish faith.

  4. To demand that the Government of North Yemen allow religious freedom, the opening of yeshivot and the sending of holy books and religious articles.

  5. To demand that the Government of North Yemen allow the sending of relief to the starving and hungry.

  6. To demand that the North Yemen authorities preserve sacred Jewish places, ancient synagogues, cemeteries and especially the graves of revered rabbis, teachers and leaders.

  7. To demand that the Government of North Yemen allow the free exchange of letters and telephone calls between families divided for decades.

  8. To demand visits between members of these families.

  9. To demand the reunification of these families.

  10. To demand that Jewish students be allowed to leave for study abroad; to allow students from abroad to come for study of the rich heritage of Yemenite Jewry.

  11. To demand that the Government of North Yemen stop the oppression of these Jews by PLO terrorists evacuated from Lebanon.

  12. To alert Jewish communities, organizations and congregations, to mobilize them for the rescue of the jews of north yemen!"

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