Issue of the Century

Extended Stay America

February 01, 2017

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During the sane but stagnant Brezhnev Era, the job prospects of Soviet Jews were diminished by hiring discrimination and, in effect, affirmative-action programs for underrepresented ethnicities, such as the Russian majority. Soviet ethnic quotas were more severe than what Asians and whites are expected to put up with uncomplainingly in the U.S. to make room for underrepresented blacks and Hispanics, but they were not much different in principle.

The Soviet Union seldom let its subjects emigrate, but in the late 1960s it made an exception by allowing some Jews to go to Israel. However, in 1972 it imposed a head tax on emigrants ostensibly to compensate the Soviet state for the cost of educating the émigrés. This tax, of course, hit Jews”€”the Soviet Union’s best-educated ethnicity”€”particularly hard.

In response, my cousin’s boss authored the Jackson-Vanik Amendment to force the Soviets to let Jews and other religious minorities out. Kissinger was annoyed that his Metternichian realpolitik with Moscow was being trifled with. For the next couple of years, the political struggle to “€œSave Soviet Jews”€ was constantly in the headlines. After months of three-way negotiations among Jackson, Kissinger, and the Soviet ambassador, Gerald Ford signed the Jackson-Vanik Amendment in January 1975.

While somewhat submitting to the demands of Senator Jackson, the Soviet government maintained a five-year cooling-off period on their Jewish defense scientists. Jews who possessed military technology secrets and wanted to emigrate were typically fired from their top-secret jobs and had to twiddle their thumbs for half a decade before they could leave the Soviet bloc.

However, they could vacation in East Berlin, which offers me the opportunity to tell another story about my in-laws.

My wife’s uncle, a U.S. Air Force colonel with a Ph.D. in metallurgy, would occasionally go spying in East Berlin and meet up with Soviet Jewish aerospace experts. He”€™d get the word through the grapevine that a future émigré would be sitting in a parked car on a certain East Berlin backstreet on a certain evening. He”€™d put on civilian clothes and cross into East Berlin as a tourist, climb into the Soviet car, and talk shop for a few hours. Then he”€™d saunter back to West Berlin and quickly write down everything he”€™d learned.

Similarly, the 1990 Lautenberg Amendment gave special immigration privileges to Soviet (and later Iranian) Jews, along with Evangelical Christians.

These religious tests in immigration law have had a major effect on my hometown, the San Fernando Valley in northwest Los Angeles. My neighborhood has increasingly filled up with ex-Soviets searching for sunshine. (You might wonder who exactly won the Cold War.)

The Russification of parts of Los Angeles has been an underreported story.

Initially, the ex-Soviet arrivals were largely Jewish. But increasingly the Russians are their Slavic distant relatives and neighbors. Many are slightly Jewish Russians invited to Israel by Ariel Sharon to vote for him, but who eventually tired of the Jewish state and bounced to Los Angeles. Others are plain Slavs, some of whom presumably get jobs as bodyguards for Russian-speaking billionaires buying up mansions in the Hollywood Hills.

For example, when my nephew stayed with us a few years ago, he played on two soccer teams at the local park. One team was otherwise all Mexican; they amiably called him “€œHollywood”€ because tall, blond, blue-eyed English speakers have become so rare in Los Angeles outside of soundstages.

The other team was made up of tall, blond, blue-eyed Russian speakers. They unsmilingly called him “€œHey You”€ because they were Russians.

I recall all this history about how the U.S. government has chosen to give immigration privileges to some foreign religious groups and not to others.

But many pundits can”€™t seem to remember much of anything. All that matters to them is knowing who are supposed to be the good guys and who the bad guys. As Lenin, Trotsky, and Stalin liked to say, the only principle that they cared about is “€œWho? Whom?”€

For example, Julia Ioffe wrote a long article in The Atlantic about how mean Americans were to her family when granting them refugee status in 1990.

When I pointed out to her on Twitter that she got in under a religious test, which we keep hearing is unconstitutional, she replied:

there was no religious test. Not sure what you mean

Being oblivious to the obvious is clearly a professional advantage in the punditry business. But can America continue to afford its delusional elites?

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