Publication: Monitor Volume: 5 Issue: 136

Washington yesterday condemned the July 13 brutal knife attack by a young Muscovite on a Jewish cultural official in Moscow (see the Monitor, July 14). State Department spokesman James Rubin, calling the attack a “cowardly act of terrorism,” said that “anti-Semitism, religious and racial intolerance and acts of terrorism like this are intolerable and have no place in a democratic society.” In New York, the World Jewish Council also voiced its condemnation, accusing the Russian government of failing to act against anti-Semitic statements made by Communist Party officials. Russia’s ambassador to the United States, meanwhile, reportedly wrote to thirteen U.S. senators on July 13 responding to their concerns about anti-Semitism in Russia. He said that the “leadership of the Russian Federation shares the convictions of U.S. senators that there should be no place for anti-Semitism… in any democratic society.” He also asserted that Russia, “on the whole,” had lived up to its obligations in this area (Reuters, July 14).

This week’s attack, however, highlighted the fact that anti-Semitism is in fact on the rise in Russia. Not surprisingly, it also focused attention on rising levels of emigration to Israel among Russia’s Jews. Israeli immigration officials reported on July 13 that 12,188 Russian Jews had emigrated to Israel over the first six months of this year. That number, they said, is more than double the emigration figures for the first six months of last year. If the trend continues, they say, the number of Russian Jews emigrating to Israel this year could reach 30,000. This would be the highest number since 1992. Only 14,000 Jews emigrated to Israel in 1998.

The threat of anti-Semitism clearly appears to be one of the factors driving increasing numbers of Jews out of Russia. But it is not the only factor, and perhaps not the major one. Surveys among the newly arrived immigrants in Israel reportedly point also to economic issues. Immigration officials believe the economic downturn which began in Russia following last August’s ruble crash has narrowed financial opportunities for Jews in Russia, and has convinced many to seek greener pastures elsewhere. In much the same vein, recent emigrants reportedly speak often simply of their desire to lead “normal” lives. Perhaps for similar reasons, emigration to Israel is also up from the other former Soviet states. Last year a total of about 46,000 Jews from the former Soviet Union–including the 14,000–emigrated. Israeli officials this year are projecting that this number could soar to 60,000.

Massive emigration from the Soviet Union to Israel began in 1989 following the adoption of more liberal emigration policies by then Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev. In all, some 800,000 Jews have emigrated to Israel from the former Soviet Union since that time, including 185,000 in 1990 and 148,000 in 1991. Since 1991, however, the number of emigrants has fallen steadily–until this year. Immigrants from the former Soviet Union, moreover, have been far and away the most numerous group to arrive in Israel since 1989, making up just over 85 percent of all emigrants. Their arrival has transformed Israeli politics and, according to some accounts, helped fuel the country’s high-tech boom. Approximately one million Israelis–or about 20 percent of the country’s population–now speak Russian (Washington Post, June 29; Novye izvestia, July 13; AP, Russian agencies, July 14).