Excitement and interest at olim's first time voting

New immigrants baffled by political system here.

olim 88 (photo credit: )
olim 88
(photo credit: )
Nic Schlagman could never be bothered to vote. He thought that the issues weren't important and that whatever the politicians did wouldn't affect his life much. But all of that changed in December. He went from being a subject of the British crown to being a citizen of the State of Israel. Now he's looking forward to casting his first ballot at the end of the month. "My vote really matters here. Who's in power has a serious effect on the moral outlook and direction of the country," said the 25-year-old London native. "The real issues are being debated and decided by the parliament. Their decisions affect lives not just in Israel but in the entire region." Schlagman is one of approximately 15,000 new immigrants who will have the right to vote in Israel for the first time on March 28. He was one of the few new olim gathered at Uplan Etzion in Jerusalem this week who would describe themselves as "very firmly on the left side of the spectrum." But even political opposites shared a common sense of anticipation about their inaugural Israeli election. For Gabriella Serlin, at least, she gets to exercise the one advantage Israel gives her as a returning citizen - the status designating children of Israelis born abroad - rather than a new immigrant. "We can vote before other people," she enthused, noting that some of her classmates at Ulpan Etzion wouldn't be eligible to vote because new immigrants have to wait three months after making aliya before they can participate in elections. "The rest of the stuff is a nightmare being a returning citizen, because no one knows what your rights are." Serlin said that, while she's excited about the upcoming elections, she's still trying to figure out Israel's political system and players. "I don't understand it and I don't think they understand it," she said with a smile. Marissa Stuart, a 23-year-old from Manchester, has also had some trouble sorting out the parties and their policies. "In Britain you focus on social policy and welfare and taxes, and here it's all about security," she said. "I want to vote on other things, but I don't really know what they are." The newcomer sounded more like a sabra, however, when she indicated her regard for Kadima had wavered without Ariel Sharon at the helm. "I think the feeling is that people don't really see Olmert as the successor to Sharon," she said. Jonathan Feuer, 21, of Washington, DC, also reflected a certain segment of Israeli public opinion when he explained that he was retracting the vote he intended to cast for Shinui. "Since I've been here, I've realized they had a few years to do things and didn't - and they're sort of falling apart." He displayed some allegiance to the American system when he quipped, "I hope there are some hanging chads." Though politically distant from Feuer, Uriel Dukan has been similarly affected by being in Israel himself. "We feel a bit more concerned. It's different than when we're watching it on TV," said the 23-year-old "nationalist," who immigrated from Nice in January. The political decisions made "can be really, really bad for the country - and bad for us."