Whither the Russian vote?

New party targets FSU immigrants but Yisrael Beytenu confident it's "natural" choice for Russian-speakers.

Liberman Yisrael Beytenu press con 370 (photo credit: Marc Israel Sellem/The Jerusalem Post)
Liberman Yisrael Beytenu press con 370
(photo credit: Marc Israel Sellem/The Jerusalem Post)
When a new, little-known party makes the front page of a major newspaper, it is bound to get attention. When that same party is on the cover of two top newspapers within a week, with opposite headlines – one very positive, one very negative – it is making its way to becoming a household name.
“The Israelis,” a mysterious party hoping to represent immigrants from the former Soviet Union in the 19th Knesset, is led by David Con, a reporter, author and screenwriter well-known in the Russian- speaking community. This week, its name was emblazoned on page-one of Yediot Aharonot and Israel HaYom.
Yisrael Beytenu candidates are pushing back, hoping to remind immigrants what it has done to help them.
On Friday, a Yediot poll gave The Israelis two seats, bringing it close to passing the 2-percent election threshold, while Israel HaYom on Tuesday accused the party of being a front for The Tzipi Livni Party.
A spokeswoman for The Israelis called it “a real party, with amazing people who built themselves up from nothing, without corruption,” that would represent FSU immigrants’ interests. She would not answer questions about connections to Livni.
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Con also declined to discuss the issue.
A party source said The Israelis are serious about getting into the Knesset, and had been done an injustice by reporters linking it to Livni.
“Why would a party that is right-wing on diplomatic issues work with Livni?” the source asked.
The Tzipi Livni Party said it will continue promoting its principles and ideas exclusively within the framework of its party.
MK Marina Solodkin (Kadima), who is taking a break from politics after representing immigrants from the FSU since 1996 in Yisrael Ba’aliya, the Likud and Kadima, said she heard rumors of Livni’s involvement with The Israelis, but also said they might be “opinions meant to hurt other parties.”
According to Solodkin, there is a vacuum in the slates of the major parties, with few Knesset candidates properly representing immigrants, while The Israelis are bringing in new, young faces.
“There are a lot of swing votes, which are worth a few seats,” she said. “There’s a chance [The Israelis] will pass the election threshold.”
“Livni, [Kadima chairman Shaul] Mofaz, [Labor chairwoman Shelly] Yacimovich and others don’t have any heavyweight representatives of the Russian community,” Solodkin said, pointing out that she dropped out of Kadima after being put in the unrealistic No. 9 slot.
“The Russian street is questioning the Likud-Yisrael Beytenu merger. Can they keep [Yisrael Beytenu’s] social liberal agenda?” she asked.
Meanwhile, Leon Litinetsky, a former Labor MK who is No. 34 on the Likud Beytenu list for the next Knesset, explained that he moved parties specifically because Yisrael Beytenu works for the interests of FSU immigrants.
“Yisrael Beytenu is the only one who not only announces that it will help immigrants, it actually does it. No one else has done so much,” he said. “Labor spoke but didn’t act.”
Litinetsky pointed to the high number of Russian-speaking candidates on the Likud- Beytenu list and said that the joint list is likely to be the largest following the election.
“The Israelis won’t be able to take care of immigrants’ problems with so few seats [in the Knesset],” he said.
As for assertions Yisrael Beytenu is no longer sectorial, and that some immigrants may prefer to vote for a party that works specifically for them, Litinetsky said Yisrael Beytenu did the right thing in trying to gain power within the Israeli establishment.
“Power is necessary to solve problems,” he said.
Litinetsky called Yisrael Beytenu’s merger with the Likud a “natural” step for the parties.
“Immigrants need to integrate into Israeli society. Oy vey, to think what would happen if the party would have remained sectorial,” he said.