«Jewish Observer»
November 2001
5762 Kislev

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Some contemporary political scientists state that it were Russians, i.e. Soviet repatriates who made Israel the state we know today.

The assertion is if not disputable than, in any case, discussible. They, undoubtedly, contributed to the establishing of the statehood. But only in the middle of the 1990s they achieved a considerable progress in big Israeli politics.

Nowadays the number of Russian speaking deputies in the Israeli parliament has reached "maximum dimensions" - 14 people. The Russian parties "Israel ba-Aliah" of Natan Scharansky and "Our home Israel" of Avigdor Lieberman play an important role in the country's political life.

The Deputy Minister of the Israel Prime-Minister Office Yuri Shtern, a well-known and respected person in the Israeli politics, told our correspondent about what "our" politicians in Israel think and do.

- Israel is now experiencing the consequences of the Rabin and Peres "peace process". What factors influence on the mass media information about Israel?

Why is a huge part of the Western and CIS mass media so attentive to the Palestinian side?

- Such result is, first of all, the combination of our inactivity with their systematic and serious work. This work is sustained by huge amounts of money pumped into the informational field by, in the first turn, the Saudis. They acquired the reputation of a moderate regime long ago, but, in effect, this regime is behind the Islamic terrorism.

Since the Oslo policy time in 1993 we have evidently underestimated the importance of propaganda. The foreign policy system has been serving the so called "peace process", that is advertising these agreements throughout the world.

The target audience in this work was, to a big extent, inside Israel itself.

The main problem of the left wing governments was rather how to sell these agreements to the own population than how to convince, for example, France that it was very good, that we were going to give away our land and negotiate with the Palestinians.

The foreign policy propaganda went in line with the home purposes and was to struggle against the main difficulty, namely, against the fact that Arafat's reputation had been seen for many decades as the terrorist one, and the PLO had been considered, officially as well, a terrorist organization. It has finally come out that all the Israel foreign policy system has been busy creating a new image of the Palestinian side in the negotiation process. It has done its best to wash up their unshaved leader, to explain everybody that they are nice people. Whereas Palestinians have not ceased, even for a moment, slinging mud at Israel, moreover, they were assisted in that by the Israeli "peacekeepers". We are observing now the consequences of such lasting symmetry.

- The Israel Prime- Minister Ariel Sharon declared during his visit to Moscow that Israel is ready to invite a million of repatriates from the former USSR. Does it mean that the Israel budget has previewed the increase of funds for absorption of the emigrants?

- Aliah has been and remains one of strategic points in the policy of any Israeli government. This strategic direction has not always been duly estimated in the form of the budget and political actions. But at the level of the annual budget planning the amount for repatriation has been and will remain one of most important. Since the early 1990s the budget on aliah has always presupposed some reserve money. If the repatriation prognosis is done for 50 thousand people the budget money is enough for 70 thousand. Main articles in this budget, such as an absorption basket, are automatically planned with the obligatory additional financing.

- In your opinion, what is aliah today? Is it really a return or still an emigration?

- The opinion that the previous aliah waves, unlike the present ones, were Zionist is a a myth. This is true when we talk about a mass aliah and not about the emigration of individuals in the 70 - 80s, when the Soviet Union let emigrate mainly the activists of the "otkaznik" movement or through a direct kinship. The mass repatriation has always contained a huge percentage of people who left for Israel to find a better life or exclusively due to family reasons, so a Zionist motivation was only part of this flow. Now that the departure is no longer difficult this element is naturally washed out. A more serious question, to my mind, is the presence or absence of a "common Jewish denominator".

This is considerably bigger than the ideology and will, in the end, define the extent of the future integration of new olim into the modern Israeli society. If we take a mass departure of Jews from the Arab countries in the early 50s, then we may say that the main bulk of the emigrants had nothing to do with Zionism. But those were Jews who knew and respected their traditions and possessed the Jewish mentality that immediately turned them into an important part of the Israeli Jewish people, though different from the Ashkenazi Jewry.

The mentality of the Soviet repatriates was different in principle. 70 years of the Soviet power, extermination of the Jewish culture, assimilation and a huge amount of mixed marriages have led to the "common Jewish denominator" of the present CIS aliah being considerably weakened. We should give potential repatriates the biggest possible knowledge about the history, psychology and traditions of the country they are to become part of. Such work should begin still in the galut and then continue in Israel where it very often stops. A person arrives, receives an absorption basket and further struggles for life but not for self-identity.

- Don't native Israelis and those living in Israel for 10-20 years have a feeling that new repatriates are people from nowhere, and the reason of their arrival is also unknown? Don't we romanticize the aliah of the 50s-early 90s?

- The situation then was, most likely, different, and Israel was different. The society was, let's say, more monolithic, more mobilized in the context of the Jewish idea. I would say that the people who left the Soviet Union 20-30 years ago are more sensitive to the composition of the present-day repatriation than the main part of the Israelis themselves. But the fact that the number of people with no ethnic connection to the Jews in Israel is growing offends many people. The former bring with them different religious views, moreover, they may neglect Jewish traditions in public. Yes, we have rather a crack in our society than a split.

- Several years ago there were some projects in the Knesset to change the "Law on Return". Has this law become one of Israel's cornerstones and is not liable to changes?

- It is very dangerous to change the "Law on Return" because there are too many people wishing to change it differently. At the forum in Durban there were attempts to declare this law a racist one for it presupposes granting the repatriation rights with regard to the ethnic and religious principles. Though similar legislation is valid in Germany, Greece and in a number of other countries. That's why it is simply dangerous to change or reconsider it in full. Only one point may be somehow changed: it states that a potential repatriate should have Jewish roots in the third generation. At present such people are granted the right to return to Israel automatically. Possible changes may concern an individual approach in any specifice case, but this will not bring big changes into the law on the whole. On the other hand, Israel is a small national state. We are concerned about our self- preservation. God bless, OUR state be ruled by the people who are really worried about Israel and about all of us.

Interview of Dov Ber Shtern
"Berega", Belarus

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