Mixed signals

By noon, almost all of the residents of the "Chen" hostel for the elderly in Bayit Vegan had voted, a rare level of civic activity in this week's elections. "I didn't have any doubts about whom to vote for," Elizabeth Gutman, a 73-year old immigrant from Belarus told In Jerusalem. "I was planning to vote for Kadima before Ariel Sharon's illness, and since I want his legacy to live on, I decided to give my vote to Kadima and Ehud Olmert." She continued her explanation: "Many people at 'Chen' voted for [Avigdor] Lieberman, since most of the residents are Russian-speakers. Others voted for the pensioners, since we're all quite old. But after listening to Olmert's interview in the Russian media, I made my final decision." Ehud Olmert may have found the key to Elizabeth Gutman's vote, but Lieberman was definitely the preferred candidate among the immigrants from the former Soviet Union who voted in the Kiryat Menahem school in the capital. Inna and Leonid Sheinin, who came to Israel 15 years ago from Kiev, both gave their votes to Lieberman. "He is the only reliable candidate. In the years we've spent in Israel, we've given our trust to many different people, and all of them have let us down. So we decided that we'll vote for him," said Leonid, who is employed as a security guard. The Russian speakers came in quietly, voted quickly, and left to attend to their daily affairs. The situation was very different in the neighboring Guatemala school. Marina Gershgorn, a 31-year-old TV producer who came to Israel from Kazakhstan eight years ago, said that in comparison to past years, "there weren't so many 'Russian' voters who came to exercise their democratic rights. "There were large groups of Ethiopians, and all of them voted for Shlomo Mola Nagosai. And the Shas voters were very organized and came in large groups," she observed. She added, "It is important to vote, and I hope that no Israeli citizen will underestimate this right. These elections coincided with my eighth anniversary of coming to Israel, so it was especially important to me to come and vote today." Like so many other newcomers from the FSU, Gershgorn voted for Lieberman, in whom she sees a strong, competent and true politician. Her nine-year-old twins say that they, too, would vote for Lieberman. "They asked me whom I will vote for, and then decided that they like Lieberman, too," she smiled. At the other end of the town, at the community center in Beit Safafa, election inspectors and activists outnumbered the voters. By 3 p.m., less than 10 percent of potential voters had actually showed up. The numbers didn't exactly correlate with the sociological survey, published earlier this week in the Kul al-Arab Israeli Arabic-language newspaper, which predicted that voting levels in the Arab sector would top 69 percent. Lamina Alayan, an employee of the community center, observed that many of the local residents were disappointed with politics in general, while others intended to postpone their vote until the late afternoon and evening hours. She predicted (correctly, it turns out) that the majority of voters in Beit Safafa would give their votes to one of the three large Arab parties. "The Israeli parties have disappointed us in the past, they gave empty promises and didn't keep them. So it is better for us to vote for the Arab MKs. Naturally, their power is limited, since they usually do not join the coalition, but at least they will do their utmost for us," Alayan said. Alayan was the first voter to show up at the polling station and she voted for Asmi Bishara. But the majority of voters from Beit Safafa were actually weren't anywhere near the neighborhood polling station. Most of them had headed for the nearby Malha mall, to spend their free day in their preferred activity: shopping. Samira and Muhammad from Beit Safafa said that they had made the decision not to vote at the last moment. "We are glad that we have a free day, but we decided against the voting, since none of the parties really represent us, not the Jewish ones and not the Arab ones. So we came here, to the mall, to enjoy ourselves." Samira laughed. "We are voting. We're voting for the Malha mall."