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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Tragedy Exposes Divisions In Israel

JERUSALEM -- Israeli commentators, rabbis and political figures joined Sunday to question whether the dozens of Russian-born Israelis killed in last week's crash of a Russian charter flight were being mourned appropriately.

And some suggested that had those aboard been "real Israelis'' -- Jews who were born in Israel or came many years ago -- the outrage and sorrow would be far greater than that which has been expressed.

"It is safe to assume that had the dozens of victims on Flight Number 1812 had names like Yael, Omer, Haim and Leah and not Yulia, Alex, Viktor and Irina, the displays of mourning and grief in the media and the Israeli streets would have been more pronounced,'' commentator Orna Landau wrote in Israel's top-selling newspaper, Yediot Aharonot.

But because many people aboard the plane were recently arrived immigrants and their deaths probably the result of a tragic accident rather than terrorism, Landau noted, they have been left "in their deaths as in their lives, on the fringes of Israeli society and outside the collective embrace.''

It was the second time in less than five months that tragedy has struck the Russian Israeli community. On June 1, a Palestinian suicide bomber blew himself up outside a crowded Tel Aviv disco; most of the 22 people killed were Russian-born teenage girls.

Yisrael Meir Lau, one of Israel's two chief rabbis, said he had believed the disco bombing "brought the Russian immigrants closer to the veteran Israeli society'' because of the widespread national solidarity expressed at the time. But now he has doubts.

"This calamity,'' he told Israeli radio, "when the names do not sound so familiar and when their circle of acquaintances is still very narrow, created a situation where we don't all share the feelings we should.''

More than 1 million people from the former Soviet Union have immigrated to Israel in the last two decades and now constitute about one-sixth of the population. Despite some integration into political and cultural arenas, most of them have maintained an insulated community.

The debate was fueled by the Tel Aviv municipality's decision to go ahead Thursday, the day of the crash, with a planned Love Parade, an irreverent and raucous celebration that many Israelis felt was inappropriate.

Israeli Jews also are marking the weeklong Sukkot holiday, and shows of mourning are not permitted during holidays. So there can be no lowering of flags or other public signs of sorrow.

Under Israel's Law of Return, anyone with a Jewish grandparent can immigrate and receive housing and other benefits. Once in Israel, however, to qualify as a Jew and be able to marry and be buried in Jewish cemeteries, one must meet the requirements of Jewish law: a Jewish mother or conversion under strict guidelines.

Consequently, many of the former Soviet residents are not considered Jewish and don't practice Judaism. Conservative religious segments of Israeli society scorn their presence here.

Their lives are further insulated by the size of their community. They can maintain the Russian language, have Russian-language newspapers (one of which rivals in circulation the country's largest Hebrew-language daily) and vote for parties that look to their interests.