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What Israeli voters really want

(Page 3 of 3)

Polls show that many in her age group, and not just those with roots in the former Soviet Union, have been leaning toward Lieberman.

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“Lieberman won’t be prime minister, but he’ll have a huge influence,” says Kovolevsky. A good part of her political thinking comes from home, she posits, which is now near Eilat. “There’s a lack of good choices here. We have no one who excites people, who feels like a real leader. We don’t have someone like Obama.”


Amid the campaign billboards at the entrance of the religiously conservative Israeli Arab town of Umm el-Fahm, an Islamist banner shows an injured Gazan infant and calls for a boycott of the parliamentary election: “No to the Knesset, Yes to God, and Yes to Gaza. I will not betray and therefore I will not vote.”

At a McDonald’s just up the road from the entrance, a group of college students echoed the frustration (but not the religiosity) of advertisement.

Israel’s offensive last month in Gaza is generally seen by Israel’s Arab minority as a vote-getting tactic of the government, and they’re disappointed that the Israeli left largely supported the war. That has deepened disillusionment with mainstream politics.

“I have a lot of things to do. I have a test on Wednesday and there’s no need to waste time on this nonsense,” says Mohammed Mahmeed, an engineering student at Israel’s Technion, while nibbling on fries and a hamburger. “I’m against the elections on principle, because this isn’t our country.”

Like Mr. Mahmeed, Ahmed Jabereen says he would forfeit his first chance to vote in an Israeli parliament because he didn’t feel any of the parties represented him.

“There are a lot of people who aren’t voting because of all of the blood spilled in Gaza,” says the business and advertising student.

But both Jewish and Arab politicians bore blame for the tension, he says. “I want to solve the problem between Jews and Arabs. They should find something in common between us so we can live together.”

However, the prospect of a government dominated by the anti-Arab politics of ultranationalist Lieberman is drawing many Israeli Arabs to the polls as a show of defiance.

Joseph, a Technion engineering student from Haifa who declined to give his last name, says he planned to back Ms. Livni, even though she helped lead the war.

“It’s so Bibi doesn’t win, and so Lieberman doesn’t go with him,” he says. “Whoever wins will have to take Lieberman into the government, the main point is the person who disagrees with him the most.”


In the first days of the war in Gaza, a Grad missile slammed into the top floor of a high-rise apartment in this coastal city. On Tuesday, the wreckage of the apartment loomed over voters at a nearby polling station as a reminder of the war and its mixed outcome.

“We’re frustrated,” says Shimon Magid, an engineer from the former Soviet Union who said he and his wife, Larissa, voted for Livni and Kadima despite their criticism of the war. “Apparently there was a reason they didn’t go all the way” to defeat Hamas.

But not all of their friends did the same, explained Larissa Magid. “A lot of Russians think a dictator like Putin can help against the Arabs.”

The recent war prompted many immigrants from the former Soviet Union to move from Kadima to right-wing parties, they confirmed. Mr. Magid says he first heard of Lieberman, a fellow Moldovan, when they were young students studying at Israeli universities after having moved.

“We were from the same immigration wave," he says.

Now the fallout of the war has helped Lieberman ride a wave to a place among Israel’s premier political parties.

“There’s a lot of frustration with the way the Arabs are behaving, and he offers a forceful solution. But that’s not the way I feel."

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