(photo credit: Ariel Jerozolimski )
Russian-Israeli billionaire Arkadi Gaydamak's new Social Justice Party, which he will launch on Thursday night in Jerusalem, will not succeed in attracting significant support from Russian immigrant voters, Likud Chairman Binyamin Netanyahu's new Russian-media strategist, Michael Falkov, told The Jerusalem Post on Wednesday.
Gaydamak is expected to reveal details about the new party and its future Knesset candidates in an event at Jerusalem's Ramada Renaissance Hotel. A recent poll commissioned by Gaydamak found that the party could receive 17 to 23 seats, but Gaydamak hopes the numbers will go up after the party has been formally launched.
In the face of threats from Gaydamak's new party and Israel Beiteinu, Netanyahu appointed Falkov two weeks ago to work as his Russian-media adviser, while his longtime Russian strategist, Benny Briskin, continues to help from outside. A former strategist for Israel Beiteinu, Falkov has worked as an analyst for several Russian-language media outlets in Israel and abroad.
Falkov said Netanyahu would not attack Gaydamak's party or Israel Beiteinu in his campaign in the Russian-language media. But he said Gaydamak's recent attempt to purchase the pork-selling Tiv Ta'am supermarket chain and make it kosher lost support for him in the Russian sector.
"Gaydamak's party will get very few mandates - no more than two or three - in the Russian sector," Falkov said after consulting with pollsters. "He lost support and respect in the sector because of Tiv Ta'am. Not everyone likes pig, but people don't like coercion. People saw that he was just using his money to advance himself politically."
In a recent interview with the Russian-language Israel Plus network (Channel 9), Gaydamak said his main priority would be to attract Sephardi voters, followed by religious voters and Ashkenazim, and only then Russian immigrants. After months of saying the best candidate for prime minister was Netanyahu, Gaydamak has recently been quoted in the Russian press hinting he could support new Labor Chairman Ehud Barak.
Asked if this was betrayal on Gaydamak's part, Falkov said, "He was never a Likud member or close to Netanyahu, so to say he betrayed him is wrong."
Falkov said Barak had almost no support in the Russian sector, which has still not forgiven him for broken campaign promises to the sector in his successful 1999 run for prime minister. He said the Russian sector was also upset with Barak for the concessions he offered the Palestinians at Camp David and for withdrawing unilaterally from Lebanon in 2000.
"The Russian sector had a lot of hope for Barak in 1999 and ended up very disappointed," Falkov said. "His fleeing Lebanon brought the [second] intifada and showed that Israel could be defeated. The Russian sector didn't like that at all, and the many immigrants serving in the IDF felt Barak's mistakes personally. He also crossed all red lines in the concessions he offered on Jerusalem, and the Russian sector won't forget it."
Falkov said that to attract new support from Russian immigrants, Netanyahu would focus on persuading them that his economic policies would help young immigrant professionals advance in their careers in Israel and not have to seek employment abroad. He also will present Netanyahu as the best candidate to improve Israel's security and its image abroad.
"Netanyahu needs to use the right tools in the Russian sector to reach people," Falkov said. "He knows the problems in the sector and he is investing a lot of time and energy to learn the sector's hopes and disappointments. I think that in the Russian sector, the Likud will be the leader, or close to it."