WHEN THE huge immigration wave from the Soviet Union arrived in 1990, we were glad.
First of all, because we believe that all immigration is a good thing for the country. This, I believe, is generally the case.
Second, because we were convinced that this specific group of immigrants would push our country in the right direction.
These people, we told ourselves, have been educated for 70 years in an internationalist spirit. They have just overthrown a cruel dictatorial system, so they must be avid democrats. Many of them are not Jews, but only relatives (sometimes remote) of Jews. So here we have hundreds of thousands of secular, internationalist and non-nationalist new citizens, just what we need. They would add a positive element to the demographic cocktail that is Israel.
Moreover, since the pre-state Jewish community in the country (the so-called "yishuv") was largely shaped by immigrants from Czarist and early revolutionary Russia, the new immigrants would surely mingle easily with the general population.
Or so we thought.
THE PRESENT situation is the very opposite.
The immigrants from the former Soviet Union -- all bundled together as "the Russians" in common parlance -- have not mingled at all. They are a separate community, living in a self-made ghetto.
They continue to speak Russian. They read their own Russian newspapers, all of them rabidly nationalist and racist. They vote for their own party, led by the Moldavian-born Evet (now Avigdor) Lieberman. They have practically no contact with other Israelis.
In their first two years in the country, they mainly voted for Yitzhak Rabin of the Labor party, but not because he promised peace, but because he was a general and was presented to them as an outstanding military man. From then on they have consistently voted for the extreme Right.
The very large majority of them hate Arabs, reject peace, support the settlers and vote for right-wing governments.
Since they now constitute almost 20% of the Israeli population, this is a major component of Israel's move to the right.
WHY, FOR heaven's sake?
There are several theories, probably all of them right.
One I heard from a high-ranking Russian official: "During the Soviet era, the Jews were just Soviet citizens like everybody else. When the Union broke up, everybody retreated into his own nation. The Jews were left in a void. So they went to Israel and became more Israeli than all the other Israelis. Even the non-Jews among them became Israeli super-patriots."
Another theory goes like this: "When communism collapsed in Russia, there was nothing but nationalism (or religion) to take its place. The population was imbued with totalitarian attitudes, a disdain for democracy and liberalism, a longing for strong leaders. There was also the widespread racism of the 'white' population of the Northern Soviet Union towards the 'dark' peoples of the South. When the Russian Jews (and non-Jews) came to Israel, they brought these attitudes with them. They just substituted the Arabs for the despised Armenians, Chechens and all the others. These attitudes are nourished daily by the Russian newspapers and TV stations in Israel."
I noticed these attitudes when I visited the Soviet Union for the first time in 1990, during the era of Mikhail Gorbachev's Glasnost. I could not visit it before, because my name was regularly struck from every one of the lists of people invited to see the glories of the Soviet fatherland. I don't know why. (Curiously enough, I was also struck from the lists of dignitaries invited to the US embassy parties on the 4th of July, and some years I had great difficulties in obtaining an American visa. Perhaps because I demonstrated against the Vietnam War. I must be one of the few people in the world who can pride themselves on having been simultaneously on the black list of both the CIA and the KGB.)