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The Not-So-Secret Israeli Admiration for Putin

The Russian-Israeli community in particular sets him up as an example of a strong leader that Israeli politicians should emulate

This post first appeared on Russia Insider

Originally Appeared at Germany Economic News. Translated from the German by Susan Neumann.

Russian President Vladimir Putin’s cooperation with Israel in Syria is not by accident. One million Russian emigres live in Israel. Considering the size of the Russia diaspora, observers believe that Putin wouldn't do anything that could potentially hurt Israel.

Most admire him mainly because of his drive and determination. The Russians are returning to the Middle East as an active player. Not only are they finding a completely changed region and new Islamist forces, but also an Israel with more than one million Russian-speaking immigrants from the former Soviet Union.

This large number of people, having arrived over the past 25 years, has changed the core of Israel. Out of their culture and history they’ve brought with them the search for a strong leader.

They’ve brought with them a different concept of democracy, or the suspicion thereof; a sense national pride that surpasses national interest, and many other feathers which the experts attribute to the Homo Sovieticus.

Many Russian political scientists are now wondering: Has Israel become a part of Russia? Even when the answer to this question is not “yes,” Israel has gone through a process of “russianization.” For Putin, this is good news at this point.

This somewhat new phenomenon became evident the day Turkey shot down a Russian bomber near the Syrian-Turkish border. While Israel's official media put forth a more cautious tone in reporting this dramatic event, Russian-speaking popular blogs and social media were not so temperate.

The consensus could be summarized as, "Great! Now Putin shows the Turks; Putin is not Bibi (Netanyahu)." A prominent blogger and journalist with Russian roots said rather cynically, "If it had been an Israeli plane, Bibi would’ve asked the Turks for forgiveness and paid them damages. But that's Putin. It's good to have him in the picture.”

However, this apparent positive response doesn’t immediately suggest that Russia actively supports Iran and the Hezbollah. Despite this, many still believe that it makes a difference when 18 percent of Israel's population speak Russian. Some analysts even claim that Putin would never conscientiously do anything that could contribute a real threat for "his people."

From a Russian perspective, it is who they are, or rather, what Russia wants that defines them. For years, Putin and his government have invested time and money in maintaining and strengthening ties to their "diaspora."

Many diversely-named Russian organizations that are being funded by state money are working towards this goal. One of them - "Children of the Same Country" - encourages “lost children” to  return to their homeland.

These kinds of activities are not confined to just Israel, but the Israeli-Russian community is a decisive factor in the development of a strong transnational Russian diaspora.

Even if it’s not the largest in the world, the [Russian-speaking] community in Israel has the most political and cultural influence. Neither America nor Canada, two other large Russian-speaking communities, can compare with Israel in one important respect.

Over the past 25 years, Israel is the only country where the Russians have produced a purely Russian-speaking segment of the population, and this plays an important role in Israeli politics.

Probably the most relevant example of the Russian-Israeli community is former Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman, head of the Russian-Israeli party "Yisrael Beiteinu " (Israel is Our Home).

Lieberman, known for his perceived close relations with Putin and other Russian-friendly leaders of post-Soviet Republicans, announced recently in press release to the Russian-speaking media, that  "the idea officially propagated by Israel; that is, to use the crisis between Turkey and Russia to foster closer relations with Erdogan, is simply stupid. It is still the same Turkey.“

That definitely doesn't mean that Putin has become an Israeli hero. Russian-speaking intellectuals are critical of his budget policies. Three-hundred thousand immigrants of Ukrainian origin hate him with every fiber of their beings. Yet the idea of a strong leader and the absence of a coherent Israeli policy shines a better light on the Russian Tsars - the nickname often given to Putin.

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