As Putin limits democracy, Russian Jews increasingly move to Israel

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An exodus of Jews emigrating from the Former Soviet Union to Israel has dramatically increased over the past four years amid fears that the former Communist superpower is becoming less democratic. While the economy and crime may also be a contributing factor, some have coined this growing phenomenon the “Putin aliyah” citing a significant deterioration in freedom under current President Vladimir Putin (according to a report in the Jewish Telegraph Agency – JTA). Russia has been clamping down on the media, political opponents and religious entities for years now, according to human rights groups. Jews are certainly feeling the effects.

Over the last decade some positive steps have been made:  the Russian government helped open a Jewish museum in Moscow and synagogues around the country, while kosher restaurants are opening and Jewish cultural events are happening. Yet at the same time anti-Semitic acts have dramatically increased recently. In one incident, nationalists broke into a synagogue to conduct an illegal search for evidence of “a terrorist plot.” Anti-Semitic allegations have also been infused into court cases involving Jews and some Jewish textbooks have been banned as well. In another example, a dozen rabbis who were foreign nationals were kicked out of the country. (Rabbi Boruch Gorin, spokesman for the Federation of Jewish Communities of Russia, said the expulsion was not anti-Semitic in nature, but was aimed at a wider crackdown on foreign clergy.)

The numbers are quite telling:  Jews are streaming out of Russia, at the very least in search of a more open and democratic society. Since 2015, nearly 40,000 Russian Jews have immigrated to Israel compared to only 36,784 in the entire decade prior. Last year the total was 10,000 and Israeli officials estimate that this year the number will likely reach 15,000.

“When I start a family, I want my kids to grow up in the free world,” Grigory Zisser, 32, told JTA regarding his decision to make aliyah.  Dima Eygenson, 39, agreed. “Ninety percent of Russians really love Putin. They admire him. They think he’s doing the right thing, focusing on hating minorities and gay people,” he said. “The other 10 percent, to which I belong, don’t feel free to say what we think about this.”

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