Bringing Home the Bacon

Russians Change the Face of Israel

Reports that over 50 percent of the Russians arriving were non-Jews brought pressure on the Jewish Agency to tighten the rules.

"We decided to set up programs for Jewish identity and education," Yehuda said. "Thousands of people have enrolled in courses teaching Hebrew and Jewish tradition. There is a renaissance of people interested in finding their Jewish identity."

The Jewish Agency would like to see the conversion process eased. Now, a convert is required to commit to a much stricter level of religious observance than that adhered to by most Israeli Jews.

American Jewry has also been diluted by intermarriage, agency officials say, and the Americans would be very grumpy if descendants of their mixed marriages were deemed non-Jews.

While many Israelis applaud the Russian contribution to the secularization of the state, peace activists are dumbfounded by the right-wing politics of the new immigrants. Many of the new arrivals go blue in the face at the idea of trading West Bank land for peace with the Palestinians.

Journalist Uri Avnery wrote in the Ma'ariv newspaper last year about a television report he had seen that portrayed Russians as "unbridled nationalists, born Arab-haters. They are sure that the whole of Eretz-Israel 'belongs to the Jews,' that we, the old-timers, have become tired and weak, and that they, the immigrants from Russia, must save Israel from perdition and the gas chambers of a second Auschwitz.

"Like all new immigrants, they bring with them the worldview that they have absorbed in their former homeland and apply it automatically in their new surroundings," Avnery wrote. "Greater Israel instead of Great Russia, Arabs instead of Uzbeks and Tartars . . .

"At meetings of the far right, these Russians meet American settlers, who come with myths of the Wild West. In their eyes, the Arabs equal the Red Indians and the settlers are the white pioneers.

"Russians are not 100 percent so right-wing as people think," Zvi countered. "People who lived under Communism don't like anything that looks like the left. And they were raised not to give up something that belongs to them. Like those islands the Japanese want back."

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