Immigration and Ethnic Formation in a Deeply Divided Society: The Case of the 1990s Immigrants from the Former Soviet Union in Israel

By Ben-Rafael, Eliezer | Shofar, Fall 2005 | Go to article overview

Immigration and Ethnic Formation in a Deeply Divided Society: The Case of the 1990s Immigrants from the Former Soviet Union in Israel


Ben-Rafael, Eliezer, Shofar


Immigration and Ethnic Formation in a Deeply Divided Society: The Case of the 1990s Immigrants from the Former Soviet Union in Israel, by Madj Al Haj. Leiden: Brill, 2004. 246 pp. $59.00.

This work offers a comprehensive view of the absorption of the recent wave of former Soviet Union (FSU) immigrants in Israel. If enters rhis field with a theoretical discussion of the sociology of immigration and wide and convincing introductions to Israeli society and the country of origin of the immigrants. The description of the absorption process is persuasive-even though one may have reservations on some specific points. A major positive aspect of the book is that it discusses the background of the absorption process of FSU immigrants in Israel in the context of the various cleavages existing in this society, paying special attention to the development of the Arab minority and its relations with the Jewish majority. Moreover, the methodology of the research is solid and responds to accepted standards. My principal reservations concern the author's tendency-in spite of efforts here and there to open the discussion to different outlooks-to offer a picture of Israeli society that is biased by exaggerated emphasis on domination and plot strategies.

To elaborate on the shortcomings, I regret that all through the book we learn about an "Ashkenazi elite" whose interests determine all arrangements in society. This assumption, which finds references in many works by revisionist sociologists and historians in Israel itself, is taken for granted-in many cases against obvious evidence. It serves as a basis for interpreting the relations of European and non-European Jews, Jews and Arabs, and, finally, veteran inhabitants and Russian immigrants. It is also fashionable in some Israeli milieus these days to interpret every aspect of the Israeli society in terms of "colonialism" or "post colonialism." This book, in final analysis, belongs to this trend - though it tries to remain somehow untainted by extremist attitudes. When one knows the immense resources and efforts invested in the integration of immigrants in Israel at all epochs, it is clear, in my view, that concepts like colonialism or post colonialism are completely out of place. My feeling is that the use of these terms is detrimental to the credibility of the author's analyses.

It is in this context that this reviewer regrets that the author gives importance to conspiracy theory and uses additional inappropriate terms like "ethnocracy" in order to describe the Israeli reality. Even the good faith of the author can be doubted when one knows that the Israeli government and ruling coalition number more representatives of the various ethnocultural publics (non-European Jews, ultra-Orthodox, Russian immigrants, Judea and Samaria settlers) than bourgeois Ashkenazim. The same applies to the author's speculative consideration of the "militaristic structures" of the State or when he describes the treatment of the Palestinian citizens of Israel without mentioning the impact of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

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