Former refuseniks move up to Knesset

Less than one year ago, former prisoner of Zion Natan Sharansky founded Yisrael ba'Aliya, a political movement giving top priority to the ingathering of the Jewish people to Israel and the absorption needs of new immigrants.

Exceeding most predictions, the party won seven Knesset seats in the recent Israeli elections and two of its members were appointed government ministers. Party head Sharansky was given the powerful Ministry of Industry and another former refuseniksYuli Edelstein received the Ministry of Absorption.

For years Sharansky had resisted pressure to seek a Knesset seat, preferring instead to advance new immigrant interests as a non-politician. He also opposed the idea of a party that was essentially new immigrant oriented, not wanting to encourage a separatist mentality. But the times have changed. Russian speaking olim now constitue a sizeable voting block. Moreover, many have been deeply disappointed in broken promises of both Likud and Labour governments.

Yisrael ba'Aliya actually has a double meaning: "Israel on the rise" and "Israel for immigration." According to party leader Roman Bronfman, the phrase is intended to convey the sense of Israeli fourishing, thanks to the aliya--to take advantage of the great potential of the new immigrants for the benefit of all Israel.

"Although the party was created by immigrants and its basic interests are to protect new immigrants, this is not the whole picture," Bronfman insists. Needless to say, the election results gave new hope and a sense of dignity to multitudes of olim from the FSU. But numbers of Israelis rejoiced as well.

Immigration and absorption facts & figures

Immigration to Israel from the FSU (former Soviet Union) for the first six months of 1996 totaled 28,755, which is almost identical to figures for the same period during the last four years. From September 1989 through June 1996, FSU immigration amounted to 139,161. The remaining Jewish population of the FSU has dropped significantly due to immigration to Israel. Following are the percentage of Jews in each region who have left for Israel since 1989, along with the approximate numbers of immigrants:

The aliya from the FSU is the most educated in Israel's history. More than 40% of FSU immigrants have 13 or more years education, compared to 24% of veteran Israelis. 1989-1995 saw the arrival of 68,100 engineers, 14,590 physicians, 1,575 dentists, 15,500 musicians and artists, 14,231 nurses, 1,831 para-medicals, 1,606 pharmacists, 10,950 scientists and 30,900 teachers.

The immigration from the FSU is older than the Israeli average: 35,5 % are age 24 and under, as compared to 44% of the veteran population. 13,5 % are 65 or older, as compared to 10,9 % of veteran Israelis. (source: Keren Hayesod - United Israel Appeal - Hotline ¹ 360 & 361)

How many Jews still remain?

According to a senior government official, there are 1,130,000 individuals remaining in the FSU who are eligible for aliya under the Law of Return. Of that number, about t 700,000 are from families in which both parents are Jewish; 100,000 from families in which the mother is Jewish. The rest are eligible under the Law of Return as the grandchildren of a Jewish grandfather, though they themselves are not Jewish.

The official also predicted that the rate of emigration in coming years will not go beyond 50,000 annually. As most Jews in the peripheral countries have already emigrated, the main emigration would be from Russia and the Ukraine.

He pointed out that, in the past year, there was a 34 per cent rise in requests for emigration visas, and estimated that more than 25,000 Jews possess exit visas. Since the Jewish community in Russia is rapidly ageing, it it feared that it will cease to exist as a nationale entity within 25 years. (source: Keren Hayesod - United Israel Appeal - Hotline ¹ 362)

Bomb damages Moscow synagogue

On 22 August a bomb shattered windows, dislodged bricks and knocked over scrolls in a recently rebuilt Moscow synagogue, fueling fears that antisemitism in Russia is on the increase. This was the second bombing of a Russian synagogue this year. According to Rabbi Berel Lazar, the bomb "was obviously the work of someone trying to send us a message that they don't want us around." Many hardliners and nationalists openly blame Jews for the political and economic instability that followed the dismantling of the former Soviet Union.

40,000 unemployed Russian Jews in Germany

Since the doors opened for Jews to leave the FSU in 1989, 50,000 have gone to Germany, drawn by cultural and climactic similarities and generous welfare benefits. For the great majority, however, the new life has not been very good.

Eighty per cent are unemployed and they are for the most part alienated from society, including the German Jewish community. The Jewish Agency is now launching a new plan to attract them to Israel, where the great majority of new immigrants express satisfaction with their new lives in Israel, despite their problems.

Renewing of security restrictions

According to an Israeli senior government official, Russia recently tightened the restrictions on the departure of Jews who serve in the army or in security-connected institutions and also began to put obstacles in the way of young Jews of draft age who want to make aliya to Israel. This new Russian policy has for the time being not been given official publicity. Reports received by the Israeli government state that regulations barring army officers and sucurity personnel from leaving Russia before a cooling-off period of five years have passed, are being implemented more strictly.

In the past, the Russians did not insist upon the strict implementation of these regulations. The source also noted that the Russians have even begun again to restrict the emigration of Jewish youths of 17-18 who are on the verge of being drafted into the army. Israel is monitoring the situation carefully. During the 1980's, security and military duty were often given as reasons to deny exit visas to Jews.
(source: Women's Campaign for Soviet Jewry 35's - circular ¹ 15, June 16th 1996)

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