Israeli Russians Must Join the Social Protest

So why aren't the Russian-speakers being heard, you ask? Perhaps we are too obedient, too captivated by the magic words "free market," too despairing.

Liza Rozovsky
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Liza Rozovsky

When Foreign Minister Avidgdor Lieberman and his flock brand the tent protest "rich-people's problems," are they taking into account the people Yisrael Beiteinu claims to represent - the immigrants from the former Soviet Union - whose voice is hardly heard among the tents?

All the data indicate that this community is very far from rich, and has its share of housing problems. In fact, it is the main victim of housing prices in Israel.

The construction of public housing was halted by the first Netanyahu government, while Lieberman was director general of the Prime Minister's Office. This was six years after the large immigration wave from the former Soviet Union started.

Let's ignore the cynical attempt of Netanyahu's first government to "compensate" the needier immigrants with densely-packed "matchboxes" the state paid contractors exorbitant prices for. Let's not talk about the State Comptroller's report of 2010, which found the conditions in the public housing that still remained constitute an "infringement on human dignity" and let's not try to figure out how many billions landlords made at the expense of the Russian-speaking immigrants.

Even without all these, it is absolutely clear that privatizing the housing market and the price rises hurt renters first and foremost. The Central Bureau of Statistics' figures show that in 2008 only 47 percent of the immigrants, less than half, owned apartments.

Let's put aside the young immigrants, whose parents will never be able to help them buy an apartment, and the tens of thousands who immigrated in middle age, make minimum wage and have no chance of receiving a decent pension. Let's focus only on the weakest of the weak.

There are 140,000 families in Israel who live on allowances for the elderly, income supplements and/or receive rental assistance from the Housing and Construction Ministry. These consist of the elderly, single mothers and disabled people.

The absolute majority of them are immigrants from the former Soviet Union. The assistance grants have not been adjusted to the price index for years. The grant for a single person is NIS 650 to NIS 1,000 a month. A family receives a grant of NIS 700 - NIS 1,250 a month.

With these sums one cannot rent even a single room - certainly not in the center of the country. The elderly immigrants make up the difference from their income supplement (about NIS 2,700 per person, NIS 4,000 per couple ). Do you want to know what is left for the remaining expenses - medicine, transportation, food, electricity? Use your imagination.

So why aren't the Russian-speakers being heard, you ask? Perhaps we are too obedient, too captivated by the magic words "free market," too despairing.

Perhaps the needy among us don't know Hebrew well enough to get on the pulpit. Whatever the reason, this silence is disastrous. The programs Netanyahu has presented in answer to the protest make no mention of challenges faced by the immigrants, nor will there be.

If this is the situation now, at the peak of the protest, what will happen when the storm blows over? Who will speak out for the immigrants? Who will care for them in their old age?

One thing is certain - it will not be Lieberman. But someone must do the job. Otherwise, any result the housing protest yields will miss the housing crisis' main victims. It is time the Russian-speaking immigrants stop being amenable, obedient, cynical tenants, unite and raise a bit of ruckus with their landlords. Afterward it will be too late.

The writer is a Russian-language journalist and a staff member of the Association for Civil Rights in Israel.



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