Academic journal article Sociological Papers

Ethnic Awakening among Russian Israelis of the 1.5 Generation: Physical and Symbolic Dimensions of Their Belonging and Protest

Academic journal article Sociological Papers

Ethnic Awakening among Russian Israelis of the 1.5 Generation: Physical and Symbolic Dimensions of Their Belonging and Protest

Article excerpt

Over the last decade, a new voice has entered the Israeli political and social discourse, belonging to the so-called Generation1.5 of the former Soviet immigrant wave of the 1990s and early 2000s (Remennick, 2003). These young adults (today around 25-40 years old) came to Israel as older children or adolescents carrying with them the legacies of their early socialization in Russia, Ukraine and other ex-Soviet countries but came of age in Israeli schools, military units and colleges. Their increasing visibility in different public arenas sparked the interest of the Hebrew and Russian media, with many press and TV reports and interviews with the activists of this emerging identity group. An umbrella NGO catering to the different issues on the collective immigrant and minority agenda in Israel's South (Atid baMidbar headed by a veteran American immigrant Debby Goldman Golan and her Russian counterpart Irena Kudman) was instrumental in consolidating the forces of civic activism on the 'Russian Street' of Israel. Two special sessions of the Knesset Committees (in July 2014 and March 2016) were dedicated to the social issues raised by the young Russian immigrants, the last one in an attempt to establish the 1.5 Russian-Israeli Lobby headed by MK Konstantin (Yoel) Razvozov. These events were followed by heated debates on Facebook and other social media about the true identity of young Russian Israelis, questioning their belonging to the mainstream and specific integration problems they still face after 20+ years of living in Israel (Remennick, 2007, 2011).

A full-length documentary New Israelis produced in 2015 by Channel 10 pitted against each other its director, an Israeli documentary filmmaker Rodion (Reuven) Brodsky who had immigrated as a young man from St. Petersburg, and an iconic Israeli celebrity Haim Yavin, a veteran Hebrew TV anchor. The film presented a head-on collision between the old school Zionism of the Israeli elite and a much more nuanced and open-ended attitude towards Israel and their own future in it expressed by the young Russian immigrants. In the film Haim Yavin, an ultimate representative of the ideologically-committed founders' generation, sternly interrogates his young informants about their lingering Russianness and apparent reluctance to enter the (in)famous Israeli 'melting pot' - emerging from it as proper Israelis like himself. The opposing narrative sounded by the young 1.5ers asserts their right to be Israeli in their own way, without asking anyone's permission to weave the threads of Russianness into their current Israeli lives. Their more articulate representatives (like journalist Lisa Rozovsky, Jerusalem pundit Marik Shtern, doctoral candidate studying the 1.5 generation Vicky Shteinman, and NGO activist Katia Kupchik) argue in the film that adding Russian-Soviet traits to the extant Israeli cultural mosaic does not threaten Israeli identity but rather makes it more colorful and attractive. Few of them subscribe to the pledge of eternal loyalty to the State of Israel (that has failed them in many respects); many declare open their options for future mobilities in the global world. Yet most of them are willing to fight for a better life in their adopted homeland for themselves, their parents and children.

Wishing to consolidate their group identity, young Israelis of Russian origin have established several communities, both virtual and physical. The first one was Fishka club in Tel-Aviv (started in 2007); then over the last five years appeared Facebook groups Generation 1.5, Parents to Sabras, Generations, Culture Brigade, Humorless Russian Women, and more (some groups are active only online while others also run actual events for the members). Standing out among these associations, is the new group Russian Israel that emerged in the summer of 2015 with a kind of a political manifest published by the Russian-language news website IZRUS. Despite clear differences between the agendas of these groups (to be discussed below), together they express a new phenomenon in the field of Israeli identity politics: the claim at visibility, belonging, and at times political protest of young Russian Israelis - 15-20 years after their arrival in Israel. …

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