Avi Gabbay delivers his victory speech after winning the Labor Party primaries.
(photo credit: MARC ISRAEL SELLEM)
Russian-speaking immigrants blasted the Labor Party on Sunday for not having a single recent immigrant to the country among its 44 Knesset candidates.
The only candidate who was not born in Israel was veteran journalist Henrique Cymerman, who made aliyah in 1975 from Portugal at the age of 16. In an effort to help Cymerman win the 20th slot on the Labor list that is reserved for an immigrant, party leader Avi Gabbay changed the party’s definition of an immigrant from one who moved to Israel since 1992 to anyone not born here.
“Labor is a racist party,” said Yisrael Beytenu faction chairman Robert Ilatov. “There is no justification for a party that is supposed to be part of Israel’s history not even bothering to have in its ranks a single representative of the fifth of the population that moved from the former Soviet Union
MK Ksenia Svetlova, whose Hatnua Party was part of the Zionist Union with Labor, said she tried in vain to persuade Gabbay to invest resources for outreach to immigrants. For instance, she organized a party each year for the Russian New Year holiday of Novy God, but Labor discontinued the practice when Gabbay ended the Zionist Union alliance.
“In a country built on aliyah, those who don’t understand its challenges cannot succeed,” Svetlova said. “It’s sad that Labor isn’t trying to reach out to immigrants from the former USSR, Ethiopia or English-speaking countries. Labor loses because of its inability to reach out to sectors.”
Svetlova pointed out that Labor did its best outreach to immigrants in 1992 and 1999, the last two elections that Labor won. She said former Labor leader Isaac Herzog also made a point of going to marches of Russian Army veterans, and other events for immigrants.
“I presented plans to reach out to younger Russian speakers but Gabbay paid no attention to it,” Svetlova said.
Gabbay’s spokespeople did not respond to repeated requests for comment. But Labor MK Nachman Shai justified the decision to not have immigrant candidates.
“The story of immigrant candidates is over,” Shai said. “Enough. They aren’t immigrants anymore. They are Israelis in every way. This is a healthy development.
Labor did have an American immigrant run last time, Eytan Schwartz, the foreign affairs adviser to Tel Aviv Mayor Ron Huldai. But Schwartz said he was too busy organizing the Eurovision Song Contest to run.
Labor secretary-general Eran Hermoni said the party does outreach in Russian, Amharic and French but that competing in primaries involves challenges, including financial.
“I considered running but it costs a lot and I don’t have the means,” said Ethiopian Labor activist Itzik Tayim. “I wish someone in my sector ran.”
Marco Sarrabia, a French immigrant who ran in 2015, said the conditions weren’t ripe this time because the 20th slot is not considered realistic, and it is also open to candidates from poor neighborhoods who are not immigrants.
“I considered running, but I didn’t want to embarrass myself,” Sarrabia said. “I might have made a mistake by not running but I didn’t want to just run symbolically.”
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