Publication: Monitor Volume: 6 Issue: 8

An Israeli organization reported this past weekend that the number of Russians emigrating to Israel more than doubled from 1998 to 1999. According to the Moscow office of the Jewish Agency, a quasi-governmental body which has facilitated the emigration of thousands of Jews to Israel from the countries of the former Soviet Union, some 29,534 Russian citizens emigrated to Israel in 1999. That figure was up from 13,019 a year earlier. The agency also reported that a total of 32,686 people from Russia, Belarus and the Baltic countries emigrated to Israel in 1999. The figure for 1998 was 16,909. Emigration to Israel from the former Soviet Union had actually begun to slow prior to 1999.

A top official of the Russian Jewish Congress was quoted on January 8 as saying that the rise in emigration from Russia is a result of the country’s 1998 financial crisis and “general political instability,” and pointed to what he said was the increasing concern being manifested by Russian Jews over incidents of anti-Semitism in Russia (AP, Russian agencies, January 8).

The rise of Russian emigration to Israel would seem to contradict assurances which former Russian President Boris Yeltsin gave to top Israeli officials last week. During that visit to the Holy Lands (to mark the Orthodox Christmas), Yeltsin claimed that anti-Semitism is no longer rampant in Russia (see the Monitor, January 10).

But the huge influx of emigrants from the former Soviet Union over the past decade–and particularly the increasing percentage of non-Jewish emigrants among them–has led to calls in Israel for legislative changes which would restrict immigration. Israel’s current “Law of Return” extends automatic citizenship and financial assistance to any Jew who comes to Israel. It extends the same right to non-Jewish spouses and to children and grandchildren of Jews who are themselves not Jewish. Figures released by Israel’s Interior Ministry late last year said that for the first quarter of 1999, non-Jewish emigrants from the former Soviet Union to Israel had for the first time outnumbered Jewish emigrants, by 55 percent to 45 percent (AP, November 28; Ha’aretz, November 29).