Fewer Russian Jews immigrating to Israel


MOSCOW, March 19 (JTA) – Vladimir and Marina still plan to immigrate to Israel next month with their 13-year-old daughter – despite the ongoing violence in the region and their poor chances of finding jobs in their careers.

“We do not feel at home here. Besides, we don’t think” the economic situation in Russia is truly stable, Marina, a Moscow 30-something, told JTA.

In contrast to Vladimir and Marina, however, many Jews living in the former Soviet Union appear either to be staying put or – if they do leave – choosing destinations other than Israel.

Slightly more than 5,500 new immigrants moved to Israel from the former Soviet Union during the first 10 weeks of 2001, a drop of 45 percent from the same time last year, according to the Jewish Agency for Israel.

The 2000 numbers for the former Soviet Union – which are drawn mainly from Russia and Ukraine, which have the lion’s share of the area’s Jews – already were down from previous years.

At the same time, Jewish immigration from the former Soviet Union to the United States and Germany increased by 30 percent since the beginning of 2001, according to the Hebrew Immigrant Aid Society.

Karol Ungar, head of the Jewish Agency mission in Moscow, told JTA that two factors caused the decline in departures for Israel: the tense security situation as the Palestinians’ “Al-Aksa intifada” nears its six-month anniversary and the improved economic situation in Russia.

Ungar, who said the Jewish Agency does not plan to cut its budget for Russia, believes the decline will slow because the Russian economy will falter again.

Others aren’t so sure. Mikhail Chlenov, a Russian Jewish leader, told JTA he is sure emigration will decrease further unless the situation in Russia worsens significantly.

“Emigration is a characteristic of the Jewish public mood: the lower the stress in society, the lower the emigration figures,” said Chlenov, president of the Va’ad, a Russian Jewish umbrella group.

Unless there is another downturn, the decreased numbers cast serious doubts on Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon’s desire to attract another one million immigrants to Israel in the next 10 years.

Even in Ukraine, where the economic situation is less stable than in Russia, there is likely to be a further drop in emigration, according to Arkady Monastirsky, a local Jewish leader. Jewish emigration is coming today mainly from small towns, where the level of unemployment is very high, Monastirsky told JTA.

In Russia, too, smaller towns have a much higher emigration rate than do Moscow or St. Petersburg.

Between the late 1980s and the late 1990s, almost 1 million people from the former Soviet Union immigrated to Israel. Of these, an estimated 10 percent either returned or moved elsewhere.

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