What is it with a country like Israel that it cannot get people to stay unless they are well-connected ( ie. second, third generation Israelis), have independent wealth ( wealthy Westerners, mainly American Jews) who retire there and are self-sufficient, are religious or philosophically supportive ( orthodox Jews and Zionists), or just plain stuck because they lack the funds to leave ( migrants, Mediterranean and African Jews, Arabs+)?
The largest number of any group to leave are Jews and their families ( not all of them Jews) who came from the former Soviet Union. The reality for them is very different and often jarring than they knew in the former USSR.
Many are highly educated but because of the fixed corruption of Israeli society ( you get ahead by whom you know, by connections, by proteksiyah), language barriers, and many other factors, they are basically marginalized. Their bodies are valued as statistics but the person is not.
Israel, in short, has become a factory to process acceptable Jews, the young, the skilled, the highly educated. But the key factor is youth.
If you are young and capable they want you. If not, forget it.
The majority of the Israeli public writes off the Russians as bad eggs.
“This doesn’t surprise me,” says Ruby Rivlin, who was present when the issue was debated by Israel’s parliamentary Absorption Committee; “after all, they’re not Zionists.” “This doesn’t surprise us,” say some members of Israeli academia. “It’s natural that every wave of immigrants realizes its goals only after several generations.”
It is hard to argue with this view, which sees the departure of the Russians as a natural, even expected, phenomenon. True, most of these immigrants work more than native Israelis, pay their taxes, uphold the laws of the state, and serve in the army; yet there’ is no disputing the fact that tiny Israel is burdened with the problems of absorbing, within a short time frame, a million immigrants with professions that do not always suit the needs of its modest economy. They segregate themselves within a local Russian culture that appears threatening to many Israelis. Roughly one-third are not Jewish according to religious criteria. So there is certain logic to the question of why the Russians, of all groups, should acclimatize more rapidly than previous groups of immigrants. Did not the Moroccans also need time to fit in?
Extreme cases dominate the public discourse: Israel’s integration of physicians, high-tech workers, and pole vaulters offers proof of our great accomplishment, and politicians clearly prefer these success stories; but members of the media, accustomed to dealing with exceptions at the other end of the scale, tend to focus on alcoholics, neo-Nazis, and call girls. Predictably enough, no one is seeking an answer to the question of what is really happening with the average immigrant, and why Russians are leaving the country in such large numbers.
The answer is complicated, and unpleasant for patriotic Israelis to hear. It is quite possible that this country is simply too crowded and not advanced enough for the most ambitious of its immigrants. In stark contrast to some of the previous immigrant groups, it seems that the Russians do not have the time to wait until the first and second generations have sacrificed themselves for the third generation, who, by that time, will be “real Israelis”—that is, have friends in the right places and know how to get along in the densely packed Israeli space, even without qualifications or academic degrees. The Russians came here to succeed and get ahead with the clear understanding that they (and their children) already have something to contribute to their new country in the present generation. Their aims and expectations were high. Their disappointments are unbearable. Moreover, the bulk of Russian immigrants in Canada, the US, and Australia have actually managed, over time, to improve their socioeconomic standing and even to advance themselves.
Recently, new studies have been published in Israel on the subject of aliyah. Sociologists describe a sharp drop in the socioeconomic status of Russian immigrants to Israel in the 1990s, and their situation has not improved in the second generation. Thousands of immigrants with academic backgrounds, who were respected as highly skilled professionals in their country of origin, are now working in factories in Israel’s peripheral areas. For a long time now, the terms “supermarket check-out girl,” “security guard,” and “1990s immigrant” have been virtually synonymous. Unfortunately, high-tech workers and pole vaulters do nothing to improve this statistic, which is seen here as natural.
The writer of this piece, a PhD student in political science at Hebrew University and a researcher at the Israel Democracy Institute, concludes:
To conclude, let me present a statistic that exposes the grim reality in which Israel, as an absorber of immigrants, finds itself. According to a survey conducted by the Guttman Center on behalf of the Institute for Jewish Studies in the CIS, Jews who have remained in Russia and Ukraine have no desire to move here: No less than 59% fear immigrating to Israel due to the expected drop in their socioeconomic status.
The time has come to stop investing resources and effort in “aliyah-boosting” in global backwaters by Jewish Agency propagandists. These resources would be better spent in improving the absorption of those who are already here, in developing Israel’s border towns, in building transportation infrastructure between the center and periphery, in ensuring suitable working conditions, and in fighting corruption and cronyism in Israel. Hopefully, this would make Israel’s economy more flexible and attractive, bringing new immigrants who could realize their potential—for their good and the good of the state—and enabling us to hold onto the fine people who are already here.
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