Slur Against Russian Emigres Touches a Raw Nerve in Israel

Jerusalem’s deputy mayor touched a raw nerve in Israel when he was quoted as saying the country does not need immigrants from the former Soviet Union because they only bring corruption and crime.

In an interview with the local weekly newspaper Jerusalem, Rabbi Haim Miller said immigration from the former Soviet Union is hurting Israel.

The new immigrants are “ruining the country,” the haredi, or fervently Orthodox, politician was quoted as saying.

“They brought corruption here [and] pork. We don’t know who is a Jew and who isn’t, and in the meantime, they have only brought trouble to the state.”

The interview appeared weeks after a Russian immigrant soldier was stabbed to death during a violent argument that broke out in an Ashkelon cafe.

The fight, in which the four suspected assailants are of Sephardi background, was believed to have been fueled by ethnic tensions.

Following the stabbing, President Ezer Weizman appealed for an effort to defuse tensions between veteran and immigrant Israelis.

This week, the Israeli daily Ma’ariv reported that prosecutors had decided not to indict the four for murder, despite a police recommendation to do so.

Miller’s quoted comments sparked angry demands that he resign.

Chaim Chessler, an official with the Jewish Agency for Israel, called on Jerusalem Mayor Ehud Olmert to block Miller from holding any public duties because of the “racist statements.”

He also called on the haredi political parties to expel him.

“I can imagine the angry reaction in the haredi public if a leader of the immigrant community declared that the haredim are corrupt, ruining the country and are not needed,” Chessler said in a letter to Olmert.

Chessler, who used to head the Jewish Agency’s mission to the former Soviet Union, said in the letter, “I can testify that more than a few immigrants were haredi Orthodox and religiously observant.”

Miller’s quoted remarks prompted the Knesset Immigration and Absorption Committee to convene a special session this week to discuss how to deal with the case.

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