Aliyah from the Commonwealth of Independent States in the 1990s

Aliyah from the Commonwealth of Independent States in the 1990s

The big immigration wave of Jews from the Commonwealth of Independent States to Israel during the 1990s actually started during the late 1980s with the opening of the USSR's borders under the liberal government of Mikhail Gorbachev. The immigration rate was not uniform at the start, and most of the immigrants actually arrived in the early 1990s.

The emigration laws under the Soviet Union

The departure of each individual citizen of the USSR was conditioned on the approval of the KGB. Many who sought those approvals were denied. Those who tried to escape the USSR and did not succeed were considered traitors, were fired from their jobs, and became targets of hatred by the public. The civilians of the USSR who did receive approval to emigrate were forced to cede their Soviet nationality and to pay money in order to do that. Under the Communist regime, real estate assets such as apartments usually belonged to the state, and emigrants were forced to cede those assets in the majority of cases. After the establishment of democracy in Russia and in other former Soviet republics, those laws were canceled and emigrants who left after the fall of the communism were able to keep their citizenship and their assets.

The factors contributing to this immigration wave

Unlike the prime immigration waves, and similar to the fifth immigration wave, Zionism was not the chief motive which brought most of the immigrants to Israel. Instead, the reasons were mainly economic and political, and, to a lesser extent, a fear for personal security.

The reason that many Jews chose to immigrate to Israel, even though they were not Zionists, is that the United States closed its gates to the Soviet Jews at the start of 1990, while Israel was willing to receive them unconditionally. The United States initiated this as a result of pressure from the Israeli government. Until the closing of the gates, during the 1980s about 200,000 Jews immigrated to the United States from the Soviet Union.

After their immigration to Israel some immigrants changed their political views and adopted the Zionist position.

The absorption in Israel

Geographical dissemination

The abruptness and extensiveness of this immigration wave brought about an immediate severe shortage of housing in Israel, in the Gush Dan area in particular, and a corresponding drastic rise in the prices of residential apartments. As a result, Ariel Sharon, then Israel's Minister for Housing Construction, initiated several programs to encourage the construction of new residential buildings, which partly included the concession of different planning procedures. When those resources were inadequate to the growing immigration wave, and many immigrants remained lacking a roof, within two years about 430 caravan sites were set up across Israel, comprising 27,000 caravans. The largest caravan site was founded in Beersheba, consisting of 2,308 housing units.

After that period, the immigrants dissipated throughout Israel. But this immigration wave exhibited a phenomenon common to previous Israeli immigration waves: the efforts of the state to transfer the immigrants to the periphery primarily affected immigrants of lower socio-economic status, while those from higher socio-economic levels, who had the resources to resist these efforts, moved to residential areas of their own choice instead, mostly in Gush Dan. (Additional cities to which many of the immigrants moved (willingly and unwillingly) were Haifa and the HaKerayot urban area, Petah Tikva, Ariel and Ashdod.) Thus the immigration wave had a clear ethnic aspect: while the majority of the immigrants originating from the European areas of the Commonwealth of Independent States moved to the center of Israel, most of the immigrants who moved to the periphery were inhabitants of the Islamic republics and the former Caucasus.

The absorption characteristics

The absorption laws changed with time. The basic government grants given to each immigrant changed rapidly from the late 1980s to the late 1990s. Most of the immigrants initially located on the periphery and later dispersed to the "Russian" neighborhoods. There were cities, mainly in the medium and lower socio-economic levels, in which immigrants constituted over 50% of all the residents.

Many of the immigrants integrated into the Israeli labor market, but the majority remained confined inside their own communities. The closed nature of this immigration wave may have been due to its large size, which resulted in neighborhoods of at times tens of thousands of people, as well as the failure of many immigrants to adapt to the receiving society and the expectancy from the society itself to change in order to absorb them.

Many of the new immigrants found that their former education was not recognized by many Israeli employers, though it was recognized by institutions of higher education. Many had to work in jobs which did not match their expertise, in contrast with Soviets who immigrated to the United States in the 1980s.

Some of the immigrants chose to stick to the strategy of dissimilation, keeping the originating culture and rejecting the absorbing culture. Other groups of immigrants (the political leadership and younger people) chose to stick with the strategy of intertwining, involving themselves in the surrounding culture while conserving their original culture. These strategic choices were different from these of the previous immigration waves, which commonly chose either to assimilate, rejecting the originating culture and welcoming the absorbing culture, or to intertwine.


The lack of willingness to integrate in the society and the demand to gain political power which would comply with their unique needs caused a growth of "Russian parties" - in which the party "Yisrael BaAliyah" gained most popularity in the leadership of Natan Sharansky. The party gained a great success in the elections of 1996 and received 7 mandates. In the elections of 1999 its power descended by one mandate whereas in the elections of 2003 it only gained two mandates and was integrated into the Likud party. Many see the fall of the party of the immigrants as a positive sign to the intertwining in the Israeli society and to the fact that they do not need their own party anymore. The founder and leader of the "Yisrael BaAliyah" party, Natan Sharansky, said after the elections that the reason to the fall of his party was actually in its success to obtain its objectives of intertwining the immigrants in the Israeli society.

From against, the politician Avigdor Lieberman established the party "Yisrael Beiteinu" (Israel is our home), as a competitor of "Yisrael BaAliyah". Yisrael Beiteinu focused on the national issues and took a hard line towards Israeli Arabs and Palestinians based upon the view that they do not support the right of Jews to maintain a Jewish state in the Middle East. This party gained a relative success in the elections of 1999, in which they won four mandates and later united with the right wing party "The National Union" which gained 7 mandates in the 15th Knesset and in the 16th Knesset.

During the 1990s the voting of the immigrants in the elections was confronted, in that it was always against the present authority. In reality, the immigrants had a considerable part in the falls of the governments of Yitzhak Shamir, Shimon Peres, Benjamin Netanyahu and Ehud Barak. With the start of the Second Intifada, a big part of the soviet immigrants tended towards the right-wing of the political spectrum in their opinions concerning the Arab-Israeli conflict and held hawkish positions in the issues of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and Counter-terrorism. Although most of the soviet immigrants supported the liberal polices in the subjects of religion and state, because this immigration wave was secular in its majority, they avoided support the Israeli left-wing parties which consisted of similar positions, as a result of their compromising positions in regard of the Palestinians and their identification of left-wing with the soviet communism. So, for example, the elections propaganda for Ehud Barak based on a distribution of Russian book which described him as a war hero of Israel. Many political commentators claimed after the elections, that this book had a decisive effect in the victory of Barak in the elections. Likewise, also the big sympathy of soviet immigrants to Ariel Sharon was in his extravagant militaristic record and in his aggressive image.

The gap between the right-wing positions of the majority of this public as opposed to its anti-religious positions was filled by the Shinui party, a secular party and significant Anti-orthodox party, which gained a great popularity amongst the soviet immigrants public, in spite of its left-wing tendency the Shinui party was not identified with the left.

In the elections of 2006 the "Yisrael Beiteinu" parted from the "National Union" party. The logic that stood behind this decision was that in spite of the similarities between the positions of "Yisrael Beiteinu" and "National Union" party, the two parties have two separate target audiences: while "Yisrael Beiteinu" turns mainly to the is a Russian voters and to the right-wings seculars, the "National Union" party turns mainly to the religious national public and to the public of the settlers. This assumption became clear after "Yisrael Beiteinu" gained alone 11 mandates and became the second largest right-winged party after the Likud, which received only 12 mandates, while most of the mandates it received arrived of course from the target audience of the party - the immigrants from the Russian Federation.


The weakening of the Zionist ethos and disappearance of the melting pot perception brought more tolerance from the Israeli society to the attempts of the Russian immigrants to preserve their culture. In tandem, many of the immigrants saw themselves as delegates of the Russian culture, and to them it was superior to the levantine Israeli culture. These parallel trends, combined with the separate immigrant neighborhoods, helped create a distinct Russian-Israeli culture.

This culture is characterized to a great extent by the combination of characteristic elements from the Soviet Union and Israel. This mixture created a new secular culture which speaks both Hebrew and Russian which puts a great emphasis between higher culture and lower culture in the fields of literature, music, theater, etc.

Also, due to the demand in of the new immigrants, many Russian language newspapers appeared, and with the development of the multichannel television in Israel during the 1990s, many Russian channels started being rebroadcast in Israel. And in November 2002, a new Israeli-Russian channel, Israel Plus, emerged.

The secular character of this immigration wave and their attempts to preserve their eating habits caused in the mid-1990s the opening of stores selling merchandise which was prevalent in the USSR, notably non-kosher meat such as pork. Even though the sale of pork is allowed in Israel, and there are even pig farms in kibbutz Mizra, the marketing of the meat in cities with a high rate of religious or traditional residents constituted as a contravention of the secular-religious status quo in Israel, and caused many confrontations. In most of the cases, the different sides reached a compromise and the pork stores were moved to the industral regions of the cities.

In addition to the Russian Ashkenazi Jews, Mizrahi groups such as the Mountain Jews, Georgian Jews, and Bukharian Jews also immigrated in great numbers to Israel during the collapse of the USSR. They were more traditional and brought their culture, food, and music to Israel.


The immigrants succeeded to integrate successfully in the Israeli economy and in the different branches of the economy, and they are characterized as having a higher rate of participation in the work market. The Israeli high tech field went through a small revolution with inculcation of several technological greenhouses which were originally set up in order to provide employment for the thousands of the scientists and the engineers which came through this immigration wave. A big part of the construction branch in Israel is manned by civilian engineers exiters of the Russian Federation, as a result of the great emphasis which the Ussr had given to the industrial urban development in the 1960s and the 1970s which emphasized the honorability in the field.

A study conducted in 1995, which checked the wage level of the literate immigrants (16 years of education and above) in comparison to the level of the wage of the Israeli-borns with the same level of education, showed that the wage level of the immigrants is rising in the relation to the wage of the Israeli-borns. The wage of a new immigrant in his first year in the country stands on 40% from the wage of an Israeli-born, while the wage of an immigrant which lived in Israel for 6 years would arrive at about 70% from the wage of an Israeli-born. Amongst the age group of 22-40, which has 16 years of education and above, the gap between the immigrants and the Israeli-borns is close, and after 6 years there even seemed to be a gap of about 6% in favor of the immigrants.

According to the Israel Central Bureau of Statistics about 1/3 of the 1990s immigrants got their former education recognized in Israel as higher education. But less than half of the literate population of workers works in the field of their expertise.

The reaction of the Israeli society

At first the reaction of the Israeli society to the Jewish Soviet Union immigration wave was very positive, and the common phrase "with every immigrant, our strength rises" was used amongst the locals. This positive attitude changed with the time as a result of fears in parts of the Israeli society to the effects the massive immigration wave would have on the Israeli society. The two central reasons for the fear which were related to this immigration wave were the fear of the high percent of non-Jews amongst the immigrants, and the apprehension that the new immigrants would take away the workplaces from the veteran population.

Another additional reason for negative attitudes is connected to the general characteristic of a migratory society, the inhospitable attitude of the veteran group towards the population of immigrants. In this respect, negative stereotypical rumors started to spread about the new immigrants. This inhospitable attitude intensified also because -- in contrast with the previous immigration waves to Israel -- many of the immigrants from this wave kept their culture and language, without trying to blend their customs with their new lives in Israel. Much of the criticism towards this wave was related to their cultural distinction, which included many negative stereotypes regarding Israeli society.

Still, many immigrants succeeded in blending into Israeli society in different fields, and contribute greatly to Israel.

ee also

* Aliyah from the Soviet Union in the 1970s

Wikimedia Foundation. 2010.

Look at other dictionaries:

  • Aliyah from the Soviet Union in the 1970s — In the 1970s a big immigration wave of Soviet Union Jews came to Israel.BackgroundA mass emigration was politically undesirable for the Soviet regime. In the wake of Israel s victory in the Six Day War in 1967, the USSR broke off the diplomatic… …   Wikipedia

  • ALIYAH AND ABSORPTION — GENERAL SURVEY Introduction Aliyah, ascension or going up, is the coming of Jews as individuals or in groups, from exile or diaspora to live in the Land of Israel. Those who go up for this purpose are known as olim – a term used in the Bible for… …   Encyclopedia of Judaism

  • HISTORICAL SURVEY: THE STATE AND ITS ANTECEDENTS (1880–2006) — Introduction It took the new Jewish nation about 70 years to emerge as the State of Israel. The immediate stimulus that initiated the modern return to Zion was the disappointment, in the last quarter of the 19th century, of the expectation that… …   Encyclopedia of Judaism

  • UNITED STATES OF AMERICA — UNITED STATES OF AMERICA, country in N. America. This article is arranged according to the following outline: introduction Colonial Era, 1654–1776 Early National Period, 1776–1820 German Jewish Period, 1820–1880 East European Jewish Period,… …   Encyclopedia of Judaism

  • History of the Jews in Russia — The vast territories of the Russian Empire at one time hosted the largest Jewish population in the world. Within these territories the Jewish community flourished and developed many of modern Judaism s most distinctive theological and cultural… …   Wikipedia

  • ZIONISM — This article is arranged according to the following outline: the word and its meaning forerunners ḤIBBAT ZION ROOTS OF ḤIBBAT ZION background to the emergence of the movement the beginnings of the movement PINSKER S AUTOEMANCIPATION settlement… …   Encyclopedia of Judaism

  • RUSSIA — RUSSIA, former empire in Eastern Europe; from 1918 the Russian Soviet Federative Socialist Republic (R.S.F.S.R.), from 1923 the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics (U.S.S.R.); from 1990 the Russian Federation. Until 1772 ORIGINS The penetration… …   Encyclopedia of Judaism

  • JEWISH AGENCY — (Heb. הַסּוֹכְנוּת הַיּהוּדִית לְאֶרֶץ יִשְׂרָאֵל, Ha Sokhenut ha Yehudit le Ereẓ Israel), international, nongovernment body, centered in Jerusalem, which is the executive and representative of the World zionist organization , whose aims are to… …   Encyclopedia of Judaism

  • AUSTRALIA — AUSTRALIA, island continent, within the British Commonwealth. At least six Jewish convicts who arrived at Botany Bay, New South Wales, in 1788 were later among the first settlers, including John Harris who, when freed, became the first policeman… …   Encyclopedia of Judaism

  • NEW ZEALAND — NEW ZEALAND, independent country and member of the Commonwealth, situated in the South Pacific. In 1829, some 60 years after the rediscovery of New Zealand, the Sydney firm of Cooper and Levy established itself in the South Island at Port Cooper… …   Encyclopedia of Judaism