Tuesday, June 7, 2016

Strengthened relations with Russia: a true strategic asset - Ariel Bolstein

by Ariel Bolstein

The word "boycott" is foreign to Russia when it comes to Israel, and the BDS movement has no foothold on Russian soil.

Israel and Russia are marking the 25th anniversary of re-establishing diplomatic ties, and it's easy to say that the celebrations, taking place in Moscow on Tuesday, are completely justified. The relationship between Jerusalem and Moscow is blossoming like never before, and Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's current visit with Russian President Vladimir Putin is further evidence of this.

The painful topic of pension benefits earned by Jews who lived in the former Soviet Union and immigrated to Israel prior to 1992 is finally coming to a resolution. In the years that preceded the waves of immigration to Israel, Jews across the Soviet Union worked hard and accrued pension benefits, but they were forced to relinquish their Soviet citizenship upon emigration. As a result, the authorities revoked their pension rights. For over 20 years, the Soviet expats have been refused what they were owed according to any measure of morality and justice. Thus immigrants from the former Soviet Union found themselves without any savings, forced to make do with a meager government stipend.

Now all this is about to change. It is not customary in our parts to dole out compliments, but Immigrant Absorption Minister Zeev Elkin, who doggedly pursued this issue despite it often appearing hopeless, deserves a lot of credit. He helped forge the system of trust that has been built between Netanyahu and Putin, and without this trust, nothing in Moscow can be pushed forward. 

Meanwhile, the Russian capital is hosting a giant exhibit about Israel. The location -- in the opulent hall at the entrance to the Kremlin and Red Square -- says it all. In this exhibit, all aspects of Israeli life are on display, from the Jewish state's remarkable agriculture to its trailblazing information technology industry and its many notable scientific breakthroughs. When I was invited to represent the Israeli position on several of the prominent current affairs shows in Russia, I learned that the Kremlin looks favorably on strengthening Israel's image as an important, significant and even prestigious diplomatic partner. And now this positive trend is even more pronounced. The Kremlin exhibit extols Israel, and the friendly coverage it receives in the Russian press means that message will reach every Russian home.

In conjunction with the exhibit, the two countries are also signing important agricultural cooperation agreements in the field of dairy farming, which are very profitable for Israel. Additionally, the high-quality dates grown in the Jordan Valley are being snatched up by exhibit visitors. The word "boycott" is foreign to Russia when it comes to Israel, and the BDS movement has no foothold on Russian soil.

Russia is among the small handful of influential powers in the world today. Any framework of mutual appreciation and respect that is built between Israel and Russia is a true strategic asset for us. This is not only about forging ties at the highest political levels, but about the immediate social and economic impact on the Israeli population as well. The pension funds that will flow into Israel will increase spending by Soviet expats and provide an economic and commercial boost. The stream of tourists from Russia is expected to grow and contribute to creating more jobs in Israel. New economic agreements will open new markets to Israeli farmers who work so hard for their livelihood.

There are other, less obvious boons as well. Russia's declared comprehensive ban on the export of its sophisticated and dangerous Iskander short-range ballistic missile (which several Arab countries have sought to acquire), saves our national defense budget billions of shekels in what would otherwise be invested in trying to counter that threat. 

Ariel Bolstein is the founder of the Israel advocacy organization, Faces of Israel.

Source: http://www.israelhayom.com/site/newsletter_opinion.php?id=16333

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