After 20 Years, Why Has Russian Immigration to Israel Stagnated?

Expert believes fewer Russians want to make aliyah due to systemic discrimination and difficult absorption.

Twenty years after Russia opened its doors to mass emigration, the number of immigrants choosing to move to Israel has stagnated.

Since 1989, over one million Russians have immigrated to Israel. In the past few years, Israel has seen an average of between five and six thousand Russian immigrants per year.

Professor Eliezer Leshem, a former Hebrew University professor and current Professor Emeritus at Ariel University Center of Samaria, believes that the current cessation of immigration may have something to do with discrimination many Russians felt while being absorbed into Israeli society.

Leshem, who is an expert on Russian immigration, cites the state's doubt about some immigrants' Jewish status, as well as trouble integrating into the job market as signs of the intolerance the Russian community has had to face.

"Russians face suspicion about their Judaism even after converting. The attitude of the rabbinical establishment is winning," Leshem said. In addition, only 20 percent of immigrants have been integrated into the same jobs they worked in Russia; the rest have had to settle for different, and in many cases, lower status jobs.

Margo Garshina, who immigrated to Israel last year, prefers not to focus on the negative aspects of the history of immigrant absorption in Israel. The 22-year-old, who emigrated from Moscow, foresees a bright future for herself in this country; she will begin studying for a master?s degree in communication this fall at Tel Aviv University.

"I feel much better here than I did in Russia," Garshina said. She believes the low number of new immigrants from Russia may have something to do with the way that Israel is represented back in Russia. "People think it's a war zone where people are killing each other on the streets. My friends thought I was moving to the end of the world, where I would be in danger at every second."

Garshina decided to move to Israel after coming on a Taglit Birthright trip; she was the only one out of several groups with 40 each who decided to move here.

Choosing not to identify herself too closely with the Russian community in Israel, Garshina represents the new generation of young Russian immigrants.

"I'm trying to integrate in to Israeli society, not Russian society," says Garshina who has been studying Hebrew since she moved to Israel. "Many Russians come here and don't communicate with people outside of the Russian community and I don't think that's right."

Meanwhile, Leshem is doubtful that emigration from Russia will increase in the future, partly due to economic changes and increased opportunities in the country.

"If you don?t receive the immigrants properly and the motivation for them to leave is low then you can only expect five to six thousand immigrants a year."

Garshina recalls walking off the plane into Israel, a country where she has no family and knew no one. She knows firsthand how daunting moving to a foreign country can be regardless of one's nationality.

"I think anyone would be afraid to take such a big step in their lives," Garshina said about the future of Russian immigration.