Alex Rif
Social-Cultural Entrepreneur, Founder of The Cultural Brigade and Israeli-Russian Poet
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When Gantz told a joke and Liberman made me cry 

No party has yet discarded the politics of mutual hatred in favor of the multicultural, cooperation that is relevant to me and my young Russian-speaking Israeli peers
(Courtesy)
(Courtesy)

Today’s Generation 1.5, meaning the children who immigrated to Israel from the former Soviet Union at a young age, constitute over 200,000 Israeli voters. What kind of political animal are they? Do they vote for Liberman like their parents? What is important to them?

Two weeks before the election, we, a group of Generation 1.5, young adult Russian-speaking Israelis, sent a letter to all heads of parties running for the Knesset elections. The letter urged them to meet with us before the elections to speak about significant issues facing the Russian-speaking public in Israel. Eventually, we met with Benny Gantz and Evet Liberman.* Meeting them felt like immigrating to Israel all over again. They were both reflections of my identity, which I did not want to see, and here is why.

We discussed our parents, who retired, and having too few years to save appropriately, their expected pension will likely bring them to poverty. We spoke about the 23,000 Russian-speaking older adults, who have been waiting for over a decade for public housing, and about another 13,000 living in housing clusters, where the conditions are often harsh and the personnel sometimes cruel. We spoke of the 59,000 Russian-speaking employees in the security, cleaning, and home caregiving fields (over 50%, making up 12.2% of the total population) – the weakest, least paid, employees whose rights are often violated. We portrayed the 350,000 Russian-speaking Israelis whose Jewish identity is not recognized by the Rabbinate. While having equal civic obligations, they are still unable to get married in Israel or to be buried next to their Jewish loved ones. Many undergo humiliating origin inspections when intending to marry, and doubts regularly cast on their belonging to Israel. We noted that Russian-speaking women are sexually harassed twice as often as their Israeli-born counterparts and suffer sexual abuse 2.5 times as often. And finally, we talked about the fact that even 30 years after the immigration, the Russian-speaking story and culture are absent from the Israeli mainstream.

Gantz listened attentively, asked questions, and expressed interest. I appreciated his sincerity. He told a joke about a man who is flying for the first time in his life, and the plane makes an emergency landing. The other passengers are terrified, but this man remains calm, for he never experienced a different dock.

Likewise, Gantz, who has never been through any election, is now in the third round within a year. In the end, he noted on behalf of the latest racist remark by Israel’s Chief Rabbi Yitzhak Yosef, who stated that Russian speakers in Israel are “Goyim… some are Communists….” Gantz, with great empathy, said: “To me, you are totally Israelis.”

I am sure he meant well by his words, but for me, they touched an open wound. As a person who spent most of his life trying to get accepted, looking for external assurances that I was Israeli enough, I know that even when I grew out of it — the tests never ended. The need to question or reaffirm our belonging remains even after 30 years in the country.

The meeting with Liberman felt quite different. He interrupted most of our presentation, as he knew the stories and numbers as well as we did. Seemingly, there was supposed to be an immediate connection. Especially as in recent years, I have been reclaiming the Russian culture and working on making it a part of the Israeli mainstream. Liberman, who understands my parents’ concerns genuinely, ought to make me feel comfortable and understood, right? Not exactly. Throughout the meeting, I kept wondering — why hasn’t he done anything about these issues in the last 20 years? I wanted to cry for my parents, who voted for him repeatedly because they thought he represented their voice. How can I believe now will be different? He explained how he just recently become aware of the impossibility of co-operating with the Haredi. They are his new “political enemy.” That is, of course, repugnant. The back-and-forth of hatred between him and Aryeh Deri from Shas does not work for the young generation. We do not hate the Haredi, and they do not hate us. We are mainly tired of politicians spreading unnecessary hatred instead of finding the common good.

History ­– Alex Rif
Translation: Alex Moshkin

If we hadn’t left
It wouldn’t have collapsed.
One million pairs of hands, the best minds
One thousand, four hundred shekels pension per month.
Immigration is like a launch into space.
At 42 years, deaf, mute.
Karelia, Kolyma, Ural Mountains,
Order number 227, shoot at anyone retreating.
The fifth line in the Soviet passport: Jew.
Artyom, Lena, German,
Arik, Alin, Amichai.
Beautiful, intelligent and successful women.
Beautiful, and other things.
And then a woman said:
We ran out of suckers.

We young Russian-speaking Israelis do not have a political home. No Israeli party works to raise the issues relevant to us. I do not know if Liberman or Gantz may bring change to the Russian-speaking Israelis. They may not be my ideal type of politician, but at least they listened to us. Other heads of parties did not do even that.

We now wait for the first member of Generation 1.5, with a genuine and determined voice, to represent us. The hateful narrative may still work for politicians, but many citizens already understand that it is slowly eroding us as a society. Soon, multicultural politics will be born, such that demand cooperation between all Israeli voices, instead of mutual hatred.

*A meeting with Naftali Bennett got canceled due to the security situation, and schedule reasons prevented us from seeing Amir Peretz.

Thank you, Olga Lempert, Moshe Stern and Zohar Dvash, for your help with this piece.  

About the Author
Alex Rif synthesizes storytelling and cultural-hacking with her public policy experience to amplify unheard voices in Israeli society – in particular, Russian-speaking immigrants, women, and Arabs. Founder and CEO of The Cultural Brigade, she helped rebrand Russian-Israeli culture and made the Russian-speaking immigrants feel at home. Alex was recognized by ‘Lady Globes’ as one of the 20 most influential Israeli female activists. She is the author of the award-winning poetry book, ‘Silly Girl of the Regime'.
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