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At the entrance to the Labor party's manifesto launch on Sunday, someone had added to the campaign banners two new banners with the slogan, "A million Olim demand civil marriage - A million youngsters demand civil marriage." The organizers denied that they had any connection with the slogans, but the message was clear: the secular-civil rights vote is up for grabs.
Tommy Lapid is gone from the political scene and the two splinter-parties left of Shinui have less than a snowball's chance in hell of crossing the electoral threshold. But what of the agenda that brought a sleepy party back from the verge of extinction only seven years ago and transformed it into the third most powerful party in the outgoing Knesset? Where have the 386,535 Shinui voters gone?
The polls are very clear. Even before "the party of the hilonim [secular] and the middle-class" imploded, most of those voters had already transferred allegiance to Kadima, which has proved much more adept at occupying the middle-ground. But what about Shinui's other game? Is there no place anymore for a secular party?
There is still a secular vote up for grabs, it's just a lot smaller than it used to be and it now speaks Russian. A month ago it seemed that Kadima was going to sweep the "Russian Olim" sector. Immigrants from the former Soviet Union admired Ariel Sharon's firm leadership and two thirds of them were planning to vote for his new party. Most had never heard of Ehud Olmert and now many of them are "floating." Some polls estimate that the Russian immigrants could be worth at least a half dozen Knesset seats - enough to save Likud or Labor from electoral disaster.
Both Likud and Labor have made an effort to accommodate the Russian electorate, but the Likud's two Russian candidates, Natan Sharansky and Yuli Edelstein, both renowned refuseniks, are affiliated with the religious community and have no track-record on secular rights issues. Labor is trying to draw attention to it's Russian, the secular and relatively young Leon Litinsky, but he is only on the 21st spot on the Knesset list, which may not be realistic. And besides, even Litinsky himself admitted this week that Labor is at clear disadvantage within the Russian community, among other reasons, because of the persistent racism against Moroccan chairman Amir Peretz.
That leaves Kadima and Avigdor Lieberman's Yisrael Beitenu Party in the running for the secular Russian vote. Right now it seems that Lieberman has the advantage. Recognized in the Russian community, he has the desired strong-man image and is fielding an Olim-only list.
Kadima isn't prepared to give up without a fight. In the list of candidates that the party will finally reveal next week, there will be at least seven Russians in the top 50 - but that's not all.
Kadima is going to take one plank out of the Shinui platform and promise the Russian community, many of whom cannot get married due to the lack of Rabbinical recognition of their Jewish status, to legislate the agreement over civil partnerships that Kadima minister Roni Bar-On brokered a year and a half ago between Shinui and the National Religious Party. The agreement fell through when Shinui was replaced in the coalition by Labor. Now is just the right time for Kadima to resuscitate it and promise: vote for us if you want civil marriage, only in Russian.
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