Aliyah from the Commonwealth of Independent States in the 1990s

Aliyah from the Commonwealth of Independent States in the 1990s

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Russian Jewish immigration to Israel began en masse in the 1990s when the liberal government of Mikhail Gorbachev
Mikhail Gorbachev
Mikhail Sergeyevich Gorbachev is a former Soviet statesman, having served as General Secretary of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union from 1985 until 1991, and as the last head of state of the USSR, having served from 1988 until its dissolution in 1991...

 opened the borders of the USSR and allowed Jews
The Jews , also known as the Jewish people, are a nation and ethnoreligious group originating in the Israelites or Hebrews of the Ancient Near East. The Jewish ethnicity, nationality, and religion are strongly interrelated, as Judaism is the traditional faith of the Jewish nation...

 to leave the country for Israel
The State of Israel is a parliamentary republic located in the Middle East, along the eastern shore of the Mediterranean Sea...



In the early 1990s, many Jews chose to immigrate to Israel because the United States
United States
The United States of America is a federal constitutional republic comprising fifty states and a federal district...

 changed its policy of treating Soviet Jews as refugees and allowing unlimited immigration, whereas Israel was willing to receive them unconditionally. Until the closing of the gates in the 1970s and 1980s, some 600,000 Soviet Jews immigrated to the United States.

Emigration laws under the Soviet Union

The departure of individual citizen of the USSR was conditioned on the approval of the KGB
The KGB was the commonly used acronym for the . It was the national security agency of the Soviet Union from 1954 until 1991, and was the premier internal security, intelligence, and secret police organization during that time.The State Security Agency of the Republic of Belarus currently uses the...

. Many who sought those approvals were denied. Those who tried to escape the USSR and did not succeed were considered traitors, were fired from their jobs, and became targets of hatred by the public. The civilians of the USSR who did receive approval to emigrate were forced to cede their Soviet nationality and to pay money. Under the Communist regime, real estate assets
Real estate
In general use, esp. North American, 'real estate' is taken to mean "Property consisting of land and the buildings on it, along with its natural resources such as crops, minerals, or water; immovable property of this nature; an interest vested in this; an item of real property; buildings or...

 such as apartments usually belonged to the state, and emigrants had to cede those assets in the majority of cases. After the establishment of capitalism in Russia and other former Soviet republics, those laws were canceled. Emigrants who left after the fall of communism were able to keep their citizenship and assets.

Geographical dissemination

The abruptness and extensiveness of this immigration wave brought about an immediate severe shortage of housing in Israel, in the Gush Dan
Gush Dan
The Tel Aviv Metropolitan Area , or Gush Dan , is a metropolitan area including areas from both the Tel Aviv and the Central Districts of Israel. The area is closely linked to the city of Tel Aviv through social, economic, and cultural ties. It is located along the Israeli Mediterranean coastline...

 area in particular, and a corresponding drastic rise in the prices of residential apartments. As a result, Ariel Sharon
Ariel Sharon
Ariel Sharon is an Israeli statesman and retired general, who served as Israel’s 11th Prime Minister. He has been in a permanent vegetative state since suffering a stroke on 4 January 2006....

, then Israel's Minister for Housing Construction, initiated several programs to encourage the construction of new residential buildings, which partly included the concession of different planning procedures. When those resources were inadequate to the growing immigration wave, and many immigrants remained lacking a roof, within two years about 430 caravan sites were set up across Israel, comprising 27,000 caravans. The largest caravan site was founded in Beersheba
Beersheba is the largest city in the Negev desert of southern Israel. Often referred to as the "Capital of the Negev", it is the seventh-largest city in Israel with a population of 194,300....

, consisting of 2,308 housing units.

After that period, the immigrants dissipated throughout Israel. But this immigration wave exhibited a phenomenon common to previous Israeli immigration waves: the efforts of the state to transfer the immigrants to the periphery primarily affected immigrants of lower socio-economic status, while those from higher socio-economic levels, who had the resources to resist these efforts, moved to residential areas of their own choice instead, mostly in Gush Dan. (Additional cities to which many of the immigrants moved (willingly and unwillingly) were Haifa
Haifa is the largest city in northern Israel, and the third-largest city in the country, with a population of over 268,000. Another 300,000 people live in towns directly adjacent to the city including the cities of the Krayot, as well as, Tirat Carmel, Daliyat al-Karmel and Nesher...

 and the HaKerayot urban area, Petah Tikva
Petah Tikva
Petah Tikva known as Em HaMoshavot , is a city in the Center District of Israel, east of Tel Aviv.According to the Central Bureau of Statistics, at the end of 2009, the city's population stood at 209,600. The population density is approximately...

, Ariel
Ariel (city)
Ariel is an Israeli settlement and a city in the West Bank. Ariel was established in 1978. Its population at the end of 2009 was 17,600, including 7,000 immigrants who came to Israel after 1990. It is the fourth largest Jewish settlement city in the West Bank., after Modi'in Illit, Beitar Illit,...

 and Ashdod.) Thus the immigration wave had a clear ethnic aspect: while the majority of the immigrants originating from the European areas of the Commonwealth of Independent States
Commonwealth of Independent States
The Commonwealth of Independent States is a regional organization whose participating countries are former Soviet Republics, formed during the breakup of the Soviet Union....

 moved to the center of Israel, most of the immigrants who moved to the periphery were inhabitants of the Central Asian Republics
Central Asia
Central Asia is a core region of the Asian continent from the Caspian Sea in the west, China in the east, Afghanistan in the south, and Russia in the north...

 and the Caucasus
The Caucasus, also Caucas or Caucasia , is a geopolitical region at the border of Europe and Asia, and situated between the Black and the Caspian sea...


The absorption characteristics

The absorption laws changed with time. The basic government grants given to each immigrant changed rapidly from the late 1980s to the late 1990s. Most of the immigrants initially located on the periphery and later dispersed to the "Russian" neighborhoods. There were cities, mainly in the medium and lower socio-economic levels, in which immigrants constituted over 50% of all the residents.

Many of the immigrants integrated into the Israeli labor market, but the majority remained confined in their own communities. The closed nature of this immigration wave may have been due to its large size, which resulted in neighborhoods of sometimes tens of thousands of people. Also, many immigrants failed to adapt to the receiving society and the society's expectancy that they change to facilitate their social absorption.

Many of the new immigrants found that their former education was not recognized by many Israeli employers, though it was recognized by institutions of higher education. Many had to work in jobs which did not match their expertise, in contrast with Soviets who immigrated to the United States in the 1980s.

Some of the immigrants chose to stick to the strategy of dissimilation, keeping the originating culture and rejecting the absorbing culture. Other groups of immigrants (the political leadership and younger people) chose to stick with the strategy of intertwining, involving themselves in the surrounding culture while conserving their original culture. These strategic choices were different from those of the previous immigration waves, which commonly chose either to assimilate, rejecting the originating culture and welcoming the absorbing culture, or to intertwine.


The lack of willingness to integrate in the society and the demand to gain political power which would comply with their unique needs caused a growth of "Russian parties" - in which the party "Yisrael BaAliyah" gained most popularity in the leadership of Natan Sharansky
Natan Sharansky
Natan Sharansky was born in Stalino, Soviet Union on 20 January 1948 to a Jewish family. He graduated with a degree in applied mathematics from Moscow Institute of Physics and Technology. As a child, he was a chess prodigy. He performed in simultaneous and blindfold displays, usually against...

. The party gained a great success in the elections of 1996
Israeli legislative election, 1996
Elections for the fourteenth Knesset were held in Israel on 29 May 1996. Voter turnout was 79.3%.The 1996 elections included two new changes, both designed to increase the stability of the Knesset. First, the Prime Minister was to be elected on a separate ballot from the remaining members of the...

 and received 7 mandates. In the elections of 1999 its power descended by one mandate whereas in the elections of 2003 it only gained two mandates and was integrated into the Likud
Likud is the major center-right political party in Israel. It was founded in 1973 by Menachem Begin in an alliance with several right-wing and liberal parties. Likud's victory in the 1977 elections was a major turning point in the country's political history, marking the first time the left had...

 party. Many see the fall of the party of the immigrants as a positive sign to the intertwining in the Israeli society and to the fact that they do not need their own party anymore. The founder and leader of the "Yisrael BaAliyah" party, Natan Sharansky, said after the elections that the reason for the fall of his party was actually in its success to obtain its objectives of intertwining the immigrants in the Israeli society.

In 1999, the politician Avigdor Lieberman (who made Aliyah in the 1970s) established the party "Yisrael Beiteinu" (Israel is our home), as a competitor of "Yisrael BaAliyah". Yisrael Beiteinu focused on the national issues and took a hard line towards Israeli Arabs and Palestinian Arabs based upon the view that they do not support the right of Jews to maintain a Jewish state in the Middle East. This party gained a relative success in the elections of 1999, in which they won four mandates and later united with the right wing party "The National Union
National Union (Israel)
The National Union is an alliance of nationalist political parties in Israel. In the 2009 elections the National Union consisted of four parties: Moledet, Hatikva, Eretz Yisrael Shelanu, and Tkuma.-Background:...

" which gained 7 mandates in the 15th Knesset and in the 16th Knesset.

During the 1990s the voting of the immigrants in the elections was confronted, in that it was always against the present authority. In reality, the immigrants had a considerable part in the falls of the governments of Yitzhak Shamir
Yitzhak Shamir
' is a former Israeli politician, the seventh Prime Minister of Israel, in 1983–84 and 1986–92.-Biography:Icchak Jeziernicky was born in Ruzhany , Russian Empire . He studied at a Hebrew High School in Białystok, Poland. As a youth he joined Betar, the Revisionist Zionist youth movement...

, Shimon Peres
Shimon Peres
GCMG is the ninth President of the State of Israel. Peres served twice as the eighth Prime Minister of Israel and once as Interim Prime Minister, and has been a member of 12 cabinets in a political career spanning over 66 years...

, Benjamin Netanyahu
Benjamin Netanyahu
Benjamin "Bibi" Netanyahu is the current Prime Minister of Israel. He serves also as the Chairman of the Likud Party, as a Knesset member, as the Health Minister of Israel, as the Pensioner Affairs Minister of Israel and as the Economic Strategy Minister of Israel.Netanyahu is the first and, to...

 and Ehud Barak
Ehud Barak
Ehud Barak is an Israeli politician who served as Prime Minister from 1999 until 2001. He was leader of the Labor Party until January 2011 and holds the posts of Minister of Defense and Deputy Prime Minister in Binyamin Netanyahu's government....

. With the start of the Second Intifada, a big part of the soviet immigrants tended towards the right-wing of the political spectrum in their opinions concerning the Arab-Israeli conflict and held hawkish positions in the issues of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict
Israeli-Palestinian conflict
The Israeli–Palestinian conflict is the ongoing conflict between Israelis and Palestinians. The conflict is wide-ranging, and the term is also used in reference to the earlier phases of the same conflict, between Jewish and Zionist yishuv and the Arab population living in Palestine under Ottoman or...

 and Counter-terrorism
Counter-terrorism is the practices, tactics, techniques, and strategies that governments, militaries, police departments and corporations adopt to prevent or in response to terrorist threats and/or acts, both real and imputed.The tactic of terrorism is available to insurgents and governments...

. Although most of the soviet immigrants supported the liberal polices in the subjects of religion and state, because this immigration wave was secular in its majority, they avoided support for the Israeli left-wing parties which consisted of similar positions, as a result of their compromising positions in regard of the Palestinians and their identification of left-wing with the soviet communism
Communism is a social, political and economic ideology that aims at the establishment of a classless, moneyless, revolutionary and stateless socialist society structured upon common ownership of the means of production...

. So, for example, the elections propaganda for Ehud Barak based on a distribution of a Russian book which described him as a war hero of Israel. Many political commentators claimed after the elections, that this book had a decisive effect in the victory of Barak in the elections. Likewise, also the big sympathy of soviet immigrants to Ariel Sharon
Ariel Sharon
Ariel Sharon is an Israeli statesman and retired general, who served as Israel’s 11th Prime Minister. He has been in a permanent vegetative state since suffering a stroke on 4 January 2006....

 was in his extravagant militaristic record and in his aggressive image.

The gap between the right-wing positions of the majority of this public as opposed to its anti-religious
Antireligion is opposition to religion. Antireligion is distinct from atheism and antitheism , although antireligionists may be atheists or antitheists...

 positions was filled by the Shinui
Shinui is a Zionist, secular and anti-clerical free market liberal party and political movement in Israel. The party twice became the third largest in the Knesset, but both occasions were followed by a split and collapse; in 1977 the party won 15 seats as part of the Democratic Movement for...

 party, a secular party and significant Anti-orthodox party, which gained a great popularity amongst the soviet immigrants public, in spite of its left-wing tendency the Shinui party was not identified with the left.

In the elections of 2006 the "Yisrael Beiteinu" parted from the "National Union" party. The logic that stood behind this decision was that in spite of the similarities between the positions of "Yisrael Beiteinu" and "National Union" party, the two parties have two separate target audiences: while "Yisrael Beiteinu" turns mainly to the is a Russian voters and to the right-wings seculars, the "National Union" party turns mainly to the religious national public and to the public of the settlers. This assumption became clear after "Yisrael Beiteinu" gained alone 11 mandates and became the second largest right-winged party after the Likud, which received only 12 mandates, while most of the mandates it received arrived of course from the target audience of the party - the immigrants from the Russian Federation.

In the Israeli elections of 2009
Israeli legislative election, 2009
Elections for the 18th Knesset were held in Israel on 10 February 2009. These elections became necessary due to the resignation of Prime Minister Ehud Olmert as leader of the Kadima party, and the failure of his successor, Tzipi Livni, to form a coalition government...

, Yisrael Beiteinu gained 15 Knesset
The Knesset is the unicameral legislature of Israel, located in Givat Ram, Jerusalem.-Role in Israeli Government :The legislative branch of the Israeli government, the Knesset passes all laws, elects the President and Prime Minister , approves the cabinet, and supervises the work of the government...

 members its highest ever. Leading to Avigdor Lieberman being called a 'king maker'. Lieberman then sided with the right wing hawks becoming Israel's Foreign Minister.


The weakening of the Zionist ethos and disappearance of the melting pot
Melting pot
The melting pot is a metaphor for a heterogeneous society becoming more homogeneous, the different elements "melting together" into a harmonious whole with a common culture...

 perception brought more tolerance from the Israeli society to the attempts of the Russian immigrants to preserve their culture. In tandem, many of the immigrants saw themselves as delegates of the Russian culture, and to them it was superior to the levantine Israeli culture. These parallel trends, combined with the separate immigrant neighborhoods, helped create a distinct Russian-Israeli culture.

This culture is characterized to a great extent by the combination of characteristic elements from the Soviet Union and Israel. This mixture created a new secular culture which speaks both Hebrew and Russian which puts a great emphasis between higher culture and lower culture in the fields of literature
Literature is the art of written works, and is not bound to published sources...

, music
Music is an art form whose medium is sound and silence. Its common elements are pitch , rhythm , dynamics, and the sonic qualities of timbre and texture...

, theater, etc.

Also, due to demand from the new immigrants, many Russian language
Russian language
Russian is a Slavic language used primarily in Russia, Belarus, Uzbekistan, Kazakhstan, Tajikistan and Kyrgyzstan. It is an unofficial but widely spoken language in Ukraine, Moldova, Latvia, Turkmenistan and Estonia and, to a lesser extent, the other countries that were once constituent republics...

 newspapers appeared, and with the development of the multichannel television in Israel during the 1990s, many Russian channels started being rebroadcast in Israel. And in November 2002, a new Israeli-Russian channel, Israel Plus
Israel Plus
Israel Plus is a television station in Israel. It primarily broadcasts in the Russian language, with or without Hebrew subtitles, but also broadcasts some shows in Hebrew with Russian subtitles....

, emerged.

The secular character of this immigration wave and their attempts to preserve their eating habits caused in the mid-1990s the opening of stores selling merchandise which was prevalent in the USSR, notably non-kosher meat such as pork
Pork is the culinary name for meat from the domestic pig , which is eaten in many countries. It is one of the most commonly consumed meats worldwide, with evidence of pig husbandry dating back to 5000 BC....

. Even though the sale of pork is allowed in Israel, and there are even pig farms in kibbutz Mizra, the marketing of the meat in cities with a high rate of religious or traditional residents constituted as a contravention of the secular-religious status quo
Status quo
Statu quo, a commonly used form of the original Latin "statu quo" – literally "the state in which" – is a Latin term meaning the current or existing state of affairs. To maintain the status quo is to keep the things the way they presently are...

 in Israel, and caused many confrontations. In most of the cases, the different sides reached a compromise and the pork stores were moved to the industrial regions of the cities.

In addition to the Russian Ashkenazi Jews, Mizrahi groups such as the Mountain Jews
Mountain Jews
Highland Jews, Mountain Jews or Kavkazi Jews also known as Juvuro or Juhuro, are Jews of the eastern Caucasus, mainly of Azerbaijan and Dagestan. They are also known as Caucasus Jews, Caucasian Jews, or less commonly East Caucasian Jews, because the majority of these Jews settled the eastern part...

, Georgian Jews
Georgian Jews
The Georgian Jews are from the nation of Georgia, in the Caucasus...

, and Bukharian Jews also immigrated in great numbers to Israel during the collapse of the USSR. They were more traditional and brought their culture, food, and music to Israel.

Many Russian Ashkenazi immigrants are not recognized as Jewish by Halacha, or Jewish religious law, due to their patrilineal heritage. This causes problems when they wish to marry, as in Israel marriage arrangements for all religious communities are made by the relevant religious authorities, and in the case of Jewish citizens, only by Orthodox rabbis. This leads many to marry abroad, as the marriage is recognised on their return. The problem affects 350,000 Jews.


The immigrants succeeded to integrate successfully in the Israeli economy and in the different branches of the economy, and they are characterized as having a higher rate of participation in the work market. The Israeli high tech field went through a small revolution with inculcation of several technological greenhouses which were originally set up to provide employment for the thousands of the scientists and the engineers which came through this immigration wave. A big part of the construction branch in Israel is manned by civilian engineers
Civil engineering
Civil engineering is a professional engineering discipline that deals with the design, construction, and maintenance of the physical and naturally built environment, including works like roads, bridges, canals, dams, and buildings...

 exiters of the Russian Federation, as a result of the great emphasis which the former USSR had given to the industrial urban development in the 1960s and the 1970s which emphasized the honorability in the field.

A study conducted in 1995, which checked the wage level of the literate immigrants (16 years of education and above) in comparison to the level of the wage of the Israeli-borns with the same level of education, showed that the wage level of the immigrants is rising in the relation to the wage of the Israeli-borns. The wage of a new immigrant in his first year in the country stands on 40% from the wage of an Israeli-born, while the wage of an immigrant which lived in Israel for 6 years would arrive at about 70% from the wage of an Israeli-born. Amongst the age group of 22-40, which has 16 years of education and above, the gap between the immigrants and the Israeli-borns is close, and after 6 years there even seemed to be a gap of about 6% in favor of the immigrants.

According to the Israel Central Bureau of Statistics
Israel Central Bureau of Statistics
The Israel Central Bureau of Statistics , abbreviated CBS, is an Israeli government office established in 1949 to carry out research and publish statistical data on all aspects of Israeli life, including population, society, economy, industry, education and physical infrastructure.It is headed by a...

 about 1/3 of the 1990s immigrants got their former education recognized in Israel as higher education. But less than half of the literate population of workers works in the field of their expertise.

Reaction of the Israeli society

At first the reaction of the Israeli society to the Jewish Soviet Union immigration wave was very positive, and the common phrase "with every immigrant, our strength rises" was used amongst the locals. This positive attitude changed with the time as a result of fears in parts of the Israeli society to the effects the massive immigration wave would have on the Israeli society. The two central reasons for the fear which were related to this immigration wave were the fear of that there may be a percentage of religious and cultural non-Jews amongst the immigrants, and the apprehension that the new immigrants would take away the workplaces from the veteran population.

Another additional reason for negative attitudes is connected to the general characteristic of a migratory society, the inhospitable attitude of the veteran group towards the population of immigrants. In this respect, negative stereotypical rumors started to spread about the new immigrants. This inhospitable attitude intensified also because—in contrast with the previous immigration waves to Israel—many of the immigrants from this wave kept their culture and language, without trying to blend their customs with their new lives in Israel. Much of the criticism towards this wave was related to their cultural distinction, which included many negative stereotypes regarding Israeli society.

Since that time, the immigrants have succeeded in blending into Israeli society in different fields, and contribute greatly to Israel. In 2009, Science Minister Daniel Herschkowitz said the immigration wave helped the Israeli universities, where one of every four staff members is now a Russian-speaker. Netanyahu said the Soviet Jews have now "integrated into the life of the country and have become a principal and important element in all aspects of life".