It is precisely when reality shows make no attempt to do so that they succeed in giving expression to a changing Israeli reality. Three years ago, for instance, a young man who moved to Israel during the last wave of immigration from Russia appeared on the television reality show Darush Manhig (Leader Wanted).
From the beginning, he was cast in the role of the foreigner, and later said that some of the production crew strove to emphasize his "Russianness." One can assume that the producers also expected to reap image benefits from their willingness to include a "Russian" in such an Israeli TV show.
Three years later, no one is even pretending to look for a social leader; reality shows merely seek celebrity survivors. But this change brings good tidings: The cast of "Survivor" candidates includes many Russian speakers, and no one is making an issue out of it. Even the producers know that it is no longer possible to burnish their image by putting Russian immigrants on the show.
Marina is known for many qualities, but her origin is not one of them. Vera's birthplace was also not used as a marketing tool. Vica's language won momentary praise, and not because of her accent. The assertive Lia did not become the representative of the Russian crowd, but rather the unofficial spokeswoman of Ashkelon, where she lives, when Grad rockets struck the city. No one argued, as was common in the not-too-distant past, that any of them was chosen for the show, or booted off it, because of her origin.
This is indeed a change, albeit a limited one. The breakthrough to the heart of the Israeli mainstream has been made primarily by women - not only because of their talents, but also because society is somewhat more open to them.
Women have found it easier to squeeze through the narrow crack in the glass ceiling about which many successful Russian speakers complain. And this is true not only of immigrants from the former Soviet Union: Young men from Ethiopia complain that the beauty of their female counterparts eases their way not only into the hearts of "white" men, as they say, but also into the heart of Israeliness, while the men lag behind.
In both communities, the explanation for this phenomenon is the same: The guardians of the establishment are still men, and they are defending their positions against those who threaten to infiltrate from the outside. Women, sorry to say, are simply less threatening to the old order.
The new openness does not show that Israeli society has become inclusive or accepting. Social ties between veteran Israelis and immigrants are still weak. To judge by TV, (female) immigrants are primarily decorative figures. According to a survey recently conducted by the Immigrant Absorption Ministry and the Jewish Agency, immigrants are seen primarily as a demographic asset to offset the Arab population.
We have reached an interesting point on the trajectory of immigrant absorption: The immigrants have not yet become an integral part of Israeli life, but it is already difficult to turn them into marketing and recruitment tools. Between "Survivor" contestant Marina Kavisher and MK Marina Solodkin, it will be interesting to see how this change influences the future of "Russian" politics in Israel.
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