''It seems like Tatarstan is a state within a state which could exist independently''

A Russian-Israeli essayist about the possible relatedness of Russians, the interaction between the two countries on Syria and about Jewish sex

''It seems like Tatarstan is a state within a state which could exist independently''

The correspondent of Realnoe Vremya has recently visited Israel at the invitation of the Russian cultural center in Tel Aviv (Rossotrudnichestvo). Among those with whom the journalist had the opportunity to meet and chat on the Holy Land was a famous writer, publicist Mark Kotlyarsky. In the exclusive interview to our newspaper he said about our former fellow citizens in the Promised Land, the lost Tribes of Israel, the crisis of the ''Russian'' party in the Knesset, his activities and repatriates from Tatarstan.

''Russians'' in the Promised Land

Mark Ilyich, tell us how many ''Russian'' Jews are in Israel? How are they treated by the citizens?

According to some estimates, Jewish immigrants from Russia, or, more precisely, from the former Soviet Union, are about a million people. Speaking about how others current citizens perceive them, there are various speculations on this point, from political to sociological. I prefer another answer: it all depends on each person, from the way they put themselves in new situations, which model of behaviour they choose. You know, famous writer-satirist Aleksandr Kanevsky had a wonderful aphorism for this case, ''Israel is like a mirror. What face you do — the response will be the same''… I feel closer to this view.

What were the main waves of immigration from Russia and the Soviet Union? How did turn out to be in Israel?

If to speak about a historical digression, then the first wave of immigrants from Russia came to the Promised Land when the state of Israel did not even exist: we are talking about the beginning of the 20th century. A feeble brook flowed in the twenties and thirties; in the fifties and sixties it is mostly Polish Jews who ended up in the USSR during the Second World War came to Israel. Finally, a massive wave of repatriation in the seventies that almost stopped by the middle of the eighties and resumed in the late eighties with unprecedented force. I immigrated to Israel in October 1990…

You have studied the Tribes of Israel. It is known that they were 12. Is there something else? Where did they go?

The Twelve Tribes are the twelve territorial holdings, divided between the heads of the Jewish tribes and named after the heads. After the destruction of the Second Temple, the Jewish people scattered abroad, and the ten tribes vanished without a trace in the darkness of history. Today we have only two tribes of Judah and Benjamin.

So, where is the Jewish Atlantis, about which you wrote?

The Jewish Atlantis is an image, a metaphor. My co-author, Aleksandr Maistrovoy, and I called our book Jewish Atlantis because of the missing ten tribes — this is our Atlantis, being in oblivion for many years…

You know, famous writer-satirist Aleksandr Kanevsky had a wonderful aphorism for this case, ''Israel is like a mirror. What face you do — the response will be the same''… I feel closer to this view

There is an opinion that Russian Jews are the descendants of the Khazars. Is it true?

There are many interesting theories, only enumeration of which can take tens or even hundreds of pages. For example, there is a version that says that Russian are the descendants of the tribe of Ephraim, and they, i.e., the descendants, were brought to the territory of present-day Russia by a Rasha. As for the Khazars, it is also a long story, and generally a separate issue, as today there is no a common opinion about who were the descendants of the Khazars.

Partners and friends of Israel

For 10 years, 2003-2013, you were the press secretary of the party Yisrael Beiteinu and of its leader Avigdor Lieberman. Why did you leave politics?

As they say, I've matured. Besides, I wanted to do art, and the politics left very little free time for this.

As a result of the recent elections to the Knesset Yisrael Beiteinu won only six mandates, losing seven compared to the previous result. Is it a crisis of the party? Did the corruption scandals play their role?

In my opinion, it's not about going through a crisis in the party itself, the scandals played their role here, they are plenty in Israel, apparently, in order it was fun to live. The political system itself is suffering a crisis, which, as the same Lieberman (Avigdor Lieberman, leader of the Yisrael Beiteinu party – editor's note) said, needs to be updated, and significantly. I think that the result of the loss of mandates is the political passivity of the Russian-speaking electorate, the disbelief that politicians today are in a position to respond to the ''challenges'' of today and to offer a solution to existing problems. As for the popularity of Lieberman, having headed the Defense Ministry, he constantly has been in the focus of media attention.

I've read that the Obama administration supported the Palestinians. The conspiracy theorists have a version that the US has written off Israel as an ally. Now Tel Aviv is like a besieged fortress. Will the situation change under Trump?

Well, as for the besieged fortress, I would not go too far, but Tel Aviv is one of the most overflowed by tourists cities in the world. I haven't seen the signs of a besieged city. As for ''writing off'' – it is also an exaggeration. In fact, the Israeli-American contacts have always been quite close and they have been based on years of cooperation in many areas. Such contacts are not so easy to break. Another thing — the relationship between the two leaders; as they say, history knows ups and downs. Barack Obama, from the column ''downs'', but believe me, it has not affected the cooperation at all. As for Trump, by the way, the same Netanyahu (Benjamin Netanyahu, Prime Minister of Israel — editor's note) says about the possible development of events very carefully. Trump is unpredictable and therefore it is difficult to forecast how the situation will develop. As they say, we'll wait and see…

Mark Ilyich, tell us more about the relationship between Russia and Israel regarding Syria. Who is Russia to Israel in this respect — an ally, partner or enemy?

I would use the definition ''partner'' because ''ally'' implies a more close contact. In this case, we are talking about partnership. As far as I know, both sides are coordinating their action on Syria, respecting each other's interests and without violating the rules of decency. Take notice of the recent fact, when a Russian fighter jet accidentally ''turned'' to Israel from Syrian territory, but there was no Israeli response, and nobody even called it an incident.

As for the natives of Kazan, they, in my opinion, differ by some inner softness. Although this is the softness, about which they say, ''honey is sweet, but the bee stings''

Established bestsellers and potential success

You wrote a book about Jews and Sex. Unfortunately, I haven't read it. However, I would like to ask: what are the secrets of Jewish sex?

This book Jews and Sex was a bestseller on the Russian market for a long time, from 2005 to 2008. Our task that we — Peter Lyukimson and I — set ourselves was to prove to the inexperienced and uninformed reader: the Jewish religion does not have a ''scopsy'' character, but it rather encompasses all aspects of human life, including intimate. What we told was a shock to many people, that is why the book was so wildly popular.

I started to read your novel Ghost at the threshold. Tell us about the genre of that book — a ''mosaic novel''. Honestly, it is unusual to read. Was there a real prototype of your heroine of Nadia Reshetova?

Thanks for reading my book, I think it is one of my most successful, those books must have a happy fate. If to speak about ''mosaicness" of the novel, it develops, like from fragments, from outwardly not similar to the heads in the presence of some internal plot. But if to speak about the way to accomplish the task, then it (the method) can be attributed to the so-called psychedelic literature when the narrative is not built on a specific plot but on shaky associations. Or in other words, Ghost on the threshold is not chronologically structured history but an ''intersection of experience'', the history of these feelings depending on the mood of the hero.

I guess a narrative about love should be built this way, it is intermittent, like a pulse, and irregular, like a heartbeat. And… Yes, of course, a real prototype was and is. But I don't think it's a hundred percent similarity, not at all…

Would you like to return to Russia for permanent residence?

I constantly visit in Russia, I have many friends and acquaintances. But already for 25 years I have my own home.

Do you watch Tatarstan? Are immigramts from Kazan different from other immigrants?

I'm curious about the processes taking place in Tatarstan. Sometimes it seems to me that Tatarstan is a state within a state, which could exist independently. As for the natives of Kazan, they, in my opinion, differ by some inner softness. Although this is the softness, about which they say, ''honey is sweet, but the bee stings''…

By Timur Rakhmatullin