Does the Likud no longer speak Russian? Party copes with changing field

Party debates how to proceed with Yisrael Beytenu hovering around the electoral threshold and Zehut appealing to Russian-speaking voters.

Benjamin Netanyahu (C), Avigdor Liberman (L) and Ze'ev Elkin (R), during a meeting between the Likud and Yisrael Beytenu parties (photo credit: MARC ISRAEL SELLEM/THE JERUSALEM POST)
Benjamin Netanyahu (C), Avigdor Liberman (L) and Ze'ev Elkin (R), during a meeting between the Likud and Yisrael Beytenu parties
Likud hasn’t started a serious campaign in Russian, unlike in past elections, leaving some puzzled as to their plans.
The party has prominent immigrants from the Soviet Union in senior positions, with Knesset Speaker Yuli Edelstein in second place and Jerusalem Affairs Minister Ze’ev Elkin in 12th, but is still debating whether to campaign extensively to the million Russian-speaking Israelis.
The party plans to launch a media campaign in Russian in the coming days, translating its general messages, but has not put together an official Russian-speaking campaign staff as it has in English. So far, English campaign chairwoman Rachel Broyde – who began work last week – has been handling Russian-speaking activists and events.
A source in a meeting between candidates, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and campaign staff said the question revolves around Yisrael Beytenu, which is hovering around the 3.25% electoral threshold, and has even fallen below it in some polls.
“There was a discussion about Russian votes,” the source recounted. “Should we not touch Russian votes to help [Yisrael Beytenu leader Avigdor] Liberman, or should we say that Liberman won’t pass the threshold and those votes will be lost, so we should pull them to us?”
If the votes don’t go to Likud, she explained, they will likely go to Blue and White or Zehut, led by former Likud MK Moshe Feiglin, which the party’s polls show currently has one Knesset seat’s worth of support from Russian-speaking Israelis.
Likud has yet to decide if it will launch a campaign to try to draw in voters from Yisrael Beytenu, but the source said they will “probably start with targeting Feiglin, because there’s a greater chance he won’t pass the threshold,” and then those votes will be lost to the right-wing bloc.
Liberman did not seem grateful that the Likud is considering trying to save his party, in an interview with KAN, which had reported that the party is not going to campaign at all in Russian in order to help him. The former defense minister threatened to sue the KAN reporter for libel.
“Not a quarter of a word in the entire report is true,” Liberman said on KAN Bet radio. “There is no coordination between Likud and Yisrael Beytenu… There is no connection; there is a disconnect.”
Liberman said “the senior members of Likud are giving interviews in Russian – Minister Elkin and Knesset Speaker Edelstein – and I see all the Likud mayors acting with determination among Russian-speakers in their cities.”
Likud’s talk about needing to help Yisrael Beytenu is “psychological warfare,” Liberman argued, in order to take votes from his party.
“Bibi’s situation among olim is not good,” he added. “Bibi surrenders to the haredim on everything.”
Zehut responded that its research also shows that it has more than a Knesset seat’s worth of votes from Russian-speakers, vowing to draw in even more before the April 9 elections.
“In general, our support among immigrants is greater than in the general public, because this population understands the need for a free market,” Zehut’s spokesman said. “The Likud, which made the socialist policies of [Finance Minister Moshe] Kahlon happen and whose list has a noticeable presence of union leaders and their secretaries, will not be effective in that population.”