Soviet Jews who fled Israel back to the USSR
"As soon as you find yourself in Israel, you realize that they need you and your family to make it easier to master occupied Arab lands."
While working on the third installment of my series about the forced Soviet Jewish migration to Israel (you can read parts one and two here), I got tripped up by a cool little side story. It’s about Soviet Jews who wanted to come back — and in some cases actually managed to come back — to the USSR after they had already emigrated to Israel. Why? Seems like they hated Israel and felt like they got duped by Zionist propaganda.
The first thing that put me on the trail was a tiny Reuters dispatch from 1973 that I found reprinted in the New York Times. It was tacked on at the end of a longer story about Jewish migration through Austria and it mentioned that a hundred “Russian Jews” occupied the Soviet Consulate in Vienna and demanded that the USSR let them back in. They refused to leave without getting their return permits, leaving Soviet bureaucrats no choice but to call in local cops to boot them out.
The New York Times, 1973.
I did some more digging and found out that a few years after this incident in Vienna, which was apparently barely noticed by anyone, the Soviet Union caused quite a scandal by putting on a press conference and showcasing a bunch of Jews who had left for Israel but then had came back because they were disillusioned with the “free world” and with Zionism. It took place in 1976 and the New York Times dedicated a whole spread to these double-refusnicks — complete with quotes from a few of the returnees blasting Israel as violent, militaristic, and racist society.
“Israel is a racist state. We Soviet Jews having nothing to do there. Israel wants to use us as unskilled laborers and cannon fodder,” the New York Times quoted Valery, who had left for Israel in 1972 and came back home to Nalchik just a few years later.
Soviet Jews were supposed to be dedicated Zionists. They were supposed to love Israel and be grateful for having been rescued from the evils of the Soviet totalitarianism. And yet here were a bunch of them who came back — and they weren’t happy with their experience. This was heresy. It was also supposed to be impossible.
Everyone who left the Soviet Union — including my own family — was stripped of their citizenship. It was understood by all that you were taking a one-way trip out. There was no coming back, no matter what happened on the outside. So I was surprised to find out that some Jews actually managed to return.
I asked my mother and she said that she had never heard of anything like this happening, either. Evgenia, though, says that she remembers Natalia Medvedeva writing about Jews who came back to the Soviet Union. So cases like this existed and were known in the Soviet Union at the time.
The New York Times, 1976.
I dug around for some kind of report on this conference in Russian and found transcripts of their testimony (or probably just their prepared written statements) in a book published in 1979 by the Association of Soviet Lawyers — a book released to fight propaganda unleashed against the Soviet Union by capitalist “bourgeois countries.”
Below, I’m including rough translations of four of the seven testimonies that were given that day. Reading through them, a lot of what they say sounds true enough — especially the parts about the poverty in Israel, the lack of jobs for trained professionals, the toxic racism built into Zionist ideology, the Jew-vs-Jew hatred, and the realization that Israel only coveted them because it needed their bodies to fight and to occupy Palestinian land. Many Soviet Jews who flew to Israel in the early 1990s said pretty much the exact same things. There’s even a great short documentary program about it. As for the Jew-vs-Jew racism? It still happens to today.
Parts of their testimonies, though, seem like obvious exaggerations — either produced on demand or spiced up by their KGB handlers for maximum anti-American and anti-Zionist propaganda impact. Valery, for instance, talks about Israeli agents threatening to kill his children when he refused to engage in a Zionist propaganda campaign, even though they promised to pay him big money.
The fact that some of their accounts are exaggerated isn’t very surprising. To get their citizenship back they probably had to make a deal — and it looks like this was part of it.
But whether or not all of what…
Read the previous two installments of this series: Part One: A saved Soviet Jew goes to Israel and Part Two: Soviet Jews and a Zionist Population Transfer Dream Deferred. Part Three will be out later this week.