Russian TV Star and Politician Ksenia Sobchak Receives Israeli Citizenship

Journalist, socialite and politician Ksenia Sobchak – who once ran against Putin despite being the daughter of his late political patron – has received Israeli citizenship after her recent stay in the country. Another big Russian star to arrive in Israel is hip-hop sensation Alisher Valeev, aka Morgenshtern

Liza Rozovsky
Liza Rozovsky
TV host and journalist Ksenia Sobchak during her campaign for the presidency, against Vladimir Putin, in Moscow, Jan. 31, 2018.
TV host and journalist Ksenia Sobchak, during her campaign for the presidency in 2018. Sources confirm that she and a son from her first marriage have recently received Israeli citizenship.Credit: Pavel Golovkin/AP
Liza Rozovsky
Liza Rozovsky

The Russian invasion of Ukraine, along with growing censorship and mounting political suppression in Russia, have sparked a stream of emigration from the increasingly isolated country. These political and historical circumstances have made Israel a refuge for some of the fleeing artists and journalists of the Russian middle class. Many have Jewish roots or at least Jewish friends and relatives in Israel. Moreover, El Al is one of the few foreign airlines still flying regularly to and from Russia.

Thus, a small but increasing number of celebrity migrants are now landing in the Jewish state every week.

Among the new arrivals during the war is rapper-songwriter Alisher Valeev, aka Morgenshtern. In a photo published on the Russian Telegraph platform VCHK–OGPU, which is affiliated with the Russian General Security Service (FSB), Morgenshtern, 24, is seen in Israel apparently filling out citizenship forms earlier this month.

Russian rapper musician Alisher Valeyev aka Morgenshtern, who is due to appear on April 14 in Tel Aviv. Provocative lyrics are his trademark, in particular glorification of money and drugs. Credit: Vyacheslav Prokofyev/TASS

For its part, Stardust Entertainment – the company that is producing the show he's due to give at the Tel Aviv Port on April 14 – confirmed that Morgenshtern arrived in Israel earlier than expected but they were not aware of whether he was requesting citizenship. He has been posting enthusiastic stories on his Instagram account about driving through the streets of Tel Aviv.

After beginning his career on YouTube miming Russian rappers and hip-hop artists, Morgenshtern rose to fame as a social media star and became quite wealthy; in 2020 and 2021, he was considered the most popular pop star in Russia (according to Spotify and other sources). Particularly provocative lyrics are his trademark, in particular extreme glorification of money and drugs.

In November he left Russia after a clash with the authorities and members of the public over a reckless statement he made about the "out-of-date" cult surrounding Victory Day (the annual celebration in Russia of the triumph over Nazi Germany) in an interview with journalist Ksenia Sobchak – who has herself been seen in Israel recently (>> read more on Sobchak's arrival in Israel below). Since then, according to Russian websites, Morgenshtern has been living in Dubai. In mid-February he told the website Starhit that he was in no hurry to return to his homeland.

From left: Lyudmila Putina, Vladimir Putin, Lyudmila Narusova and Ksenia Sobchak at the funeral of her father and Putin's former mentor, Anatoly Sobchak in 2000.Credit: Presidential Press and Information Office

Morgenshtern’s connection to Judaism became public when, just over a year ago, he had his picture taken with Russia’s chief rabbi, Berel Lazar. According to the website Jewish.ru, a spokesman for Lazar said after the meeting that Morgenshtern is not Jewish, but he has Jewish roots (apparently on his mother's side) and as a child he would visit a synagogue with his grandparents.

In early March, the rapper posted a new clip called “12” (a reference to "The Twelve," the iconic poem by Russian poet Alexander Blok, who praised the unbridled cruelty of the Bolshevik revolution). The clip shows Morgenshtern sitting in a yellow car on a blue backdrop.

For Russia at this time, while it's waging a war on its neighbor, those colors are more than a hint of the Ukrainian flag. But the colors were not enough to define the new track by Morgenshtern, who has boasted more than once in the past that he is apolitical, “Protest Song,” with lines like “The big uncles send [you] to the slaughterhouse, the uncles don’t give a damn,” or “a new dog is nice but a new passport is nicer,” leave no doubt that Morgenshtern has awoken from his former indifference.

Political pedigree

Another, no-less-famous personality who visited Israel recently for more than a month and received Israeli citizenship is Ksenia Sobchak – the same journalist whose interview with Morgenshtern led to his fleeing Russia. Sobchak's maternal grandfather is Jewish.

After graduating from the prestigious MGIMO University in Moscow, Sobchak, who is 40 today, became a nationwide celebrity when she hosted a Russian reality TV show called "Dom 2." But her role in the public political sphere is much more significant and symbolic: Sobchak is the daughter of Anatoly Sobchak – one the most prominent politicians of the Perestroika era and the first democratically elected mayor of St. Petersburg at that time. Her father is remembered today mainly as the first major political patron of Russian President Vladimir Putin. For her part, Ksenia Sobchak was among those who ran against Putin in the presidential race in 2018, the youngest-ever such candidate.

A post by Ksenia Sobchak, on what she calls the fake 'patriotic frenzy' on Russian social media.Credit: Ksenia Sobchak

Anatoly Sobchak’s sudden death in 2000, shortly after Putin rose to power in Moscow, remains a mystery to this day. About a decade ago, his widow, Ksenia’s mother, Lyudmila Narusova, who is currently a member of the Russian upper house of parliament, told the Russian newspaper Novata Gazeta that her husband had not died of a heart attack and that she knew the real cause of his death but would not reveal it.

Ksenia Sobchak became a prominent political figure in 2011-2012 when she joined forces with leading activists and prominent Putin critics Alexei Navalny and Boris Nemtsov. In 2012, she left the reality-show scene, which symbolized her move into politics and more serious journalism.

In recent years, Sobchak has become known for her sharp interview style, and the fact that she has not on occasion hesitated (or perhaps was allowed) to ask Putin “uncomfortable” questions. Her presidential run four years ago as a liberal candidate supporting an anti-corruption platform, drew criticism from the opposition, among others from those supporting Navalny, who had been banned from running for president. To some, Sobchak’s candidacy was perceived as a fig leaf, which allowed the Kremlin to present a false impression of a fair contest. Sobchak received 1.68 percent of the vote.

Meanwhile, a source familiar with Sobchak says that she and her son from a previous marriage have indeed received Israeli citizenship; her son’s father, Russian actor and director Maksim Vitorgan, is also Jewish. It is believed that Sobchak’s current partner, theater director Konstantin Bogomolov, received Israeli citizenship a few years ago.

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