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A mass emigration was politically undesirable for the Soviet regime. In the wake of Israel's victory in the Six-Day War in 1967, the USSR broke off the diplomatic relations with the Jewish state. Anti-Zionist propaganda campaign in the state-controlled mass media and the rise of Zionology were accompanied by harsher discrimination of the Soviet Jews. By the end of 1960s, Jewish cultural and religious life in the Soviet Union had become practically impossible, and the majority of Soviet Jews were assimilated and non-religious.
Many were formally refused permission to leave. A typical excuse given by the OVIR (ОВиР), the MVD department responsible for provisioning of exit visas was that the persons who had been given access at some point in their careers to information vital to Soviet national security could not be allowed to leave the country.
The increase in the number of immigrants
After the Dymshits-Kuznetsov hijacking affair in 1970 and the crackdown that followed, strong international condemnations caused the Soviet authorities to increase the emigration quota. In the years 1960-1970, only 4,000 people left the USSR; in the following decade, the number rose to 250,000.
In 1972 the USSR imposed the so-called "diploma tax" on would-be emigrants who received higher education in the USSR. In some cases, the fee was as high as twenty annual salaries. This measure was apparently designed to combat the brain drain caused by the growing emigration of Soviet Jews and other members of the intelligentsia to the West. Following international protests, the Kremlin soon revoked the tax, but continued to sporadically impose various limitations.
Many of those allowed to leave to Israel chose other destinations, most notably the United States.
The immigration policy of the USSR
Whoever requested to leave the USSR had to apply for a visa, which would have a request letter from a family member living in the same country which they were interested in emigrating to. The person sending of the visa, would be obligated to support his family member. The request of the family member should be notarized in the country of origin, and then sent to the family member that lives in the USSR. The person requesting the visa would then need to go to the department of the Ministry of the Interior, which was called “Ovir” (the office of visas and to registrations of the Ministry of the Interior). In the Ministry of the Interior he had to fill all sorts of documents, which partly included filling up intrusive questions which weren’t pleasant to expose. He then must inform all the factors to whom he was connected in USSR on his desire to leave. He then had to bring a “karakteristika” – a sort of a recommendation letter from his manager in his workplace. To obtain a visa he also had to get approvals from the children’s schools and from the local community where he was living. An approval that one did not have any economic debts inside the Ussr, an approval from ones parents and even an approval from one’s divorcee if the person requesting the visa was divorced. If the immigrant was a party member, he had to obtain an approval from the offices of the local party and from the professional union that they agreed he would leave. After all the approvals were handed in, and everyone affiliated with the person requesting the visa was notified of his intention to leave the country, all the documents were handed to the “Ovir”, with an additional payment of forty Russian rubles. Typically an officially answer to the request would arrive after half a year. If the answer was positive, then one had to hand in approvals that the children have left their schools, and that one has left the workplace and that the apartment had been sold. During the six day war, the immigration wave from the USSR almost stopped completely, and in addition to that the authorities did not accept any requests to for immigration visas. The reason was because the USSR supported the Arab states during the war, and because of a dissociation of the diplomatic relations with Israel. In 1971 the anti Zionist wave reached a record, and even so, during this year a decision was made in the upper level of the decision makers on granting permits to the emigrating Jews. Desire to reduce expanding Zionist activity may have influenced the administration to believe allowing them to leave would good. The USSR's desire to improve relations with the west, and to increase economic interaction legitimized the idea of opening it’s gates. This may have been the main factor throughout the years that affected the opening and closure of the USSR's immigration faucet.
Factors for this immigration wave
The overwhelming victory of Israel during the Six-Day War, brought to a turn in the thinking of the Jews of the USSR. The victory increased their feeling of national pride amongst them. Furthermore, it increased their feeling of alienation with the USSR, which had a pact with the Arab states during the course of the war. After the war the Soviet Jews started to send letters to the Soviet authorities in demand of letting them immigrate to Israel. Except for the arousal of the national emotions amongst the Jews of the USSR, there were also additional reasons for them to choose to immigrate:
- Jews were discriminated against in higher education institutions (in a policy known as Numerus clausus), government institutions, and in professional advancement.
- Anti-semitism and anti-Zionistic propaganda was common in Soviet mass media.
- Many Jews were dissatisfied with the political and economical.
- Increased nationalism among Soviet nations made some Jews consider their right for a national identity.
- There was increased communication between Soviet Jews and Jews worldwide.
The absorption of the immigration wave
During the 1970s, about 163,000 people immigrated to Israel from the USSR, when the majority of the immigration wave happened actually between the years 1969 to 1973. In comparison with the other immigrants who immigrated to Israel during the same period of time, it is report that the immigrants of the USSR felt a strong belonging, Israeli empathy, and a strong feeling that they would remain in Israel. On the occupational point of view, those immigrants started working in full-time jobs and in jobs similar to the jobs they had in the USSR. But in comparison to the immigrants which arrived from the western developed countries, a smaller percent of the USSR immigrants reported that they are unsatisfied from their jobs. In the aspect of finding a job, only one third from the workers claimed that the state helped them finding work. From the social point of view, the immigrants from the USSR tended to generate more social connections with new immigrants like them than with the locals natives. The USSR immigrants during those years felt that the acquisition of the Hebrew language was important almost as finding housing and employment, and therefore they put it in a high priority. Special Hebrew Language schools (“Ulpan”) were set up by the country and available for free for the immigrants, which helped them acquire the Hebrew language. In the field of the housing most of the immigrants felt that the conditions weren’t worse from the housing conditions they had in the USSR and a small part even felt an improvement from the level of the housing in Israel in comparison to the USSR. When arriving Israel, the immigrants settled in a variety of cities such as: Petah Tikva, Hadera, Nes Tziona, Beer Sheva, Tiberias and Netanya. It is highly likely that the absorption of the USSR immigrants was much better than the absorption of other immigrants during the same time period. By the same token there is to point out that the immigrants who lived mixed neighborhoods with the native Israelis were better absorbed than those who lived in neighborhoods consisting of only immigrants. The immigrants whom lived in the mixed neighborhoods with the native Israelis and were more involved with the veteran Israelis, learned the language faster, and social mixing was more prevalent.
- Refusenik (Soviet Union)
- Dymshits-Kuznetsov hijacking affair
- History of the Jews in Russia and the Soviet Union
- Aliyah from the Commonwealth of Independent States in the 1990s