Russians shift right little patience for peace or Barak

Polls show that Russians, who have helped limit each prime minister since 1992 to only one term in office, would give Netanyahu 80 percent of the vote if elections were held for prime minister.

To show their disdain for Barak, thousands of Russian-born Israelis who feared Barak would make dangerous concessions to the Palestinians, demonstrated in Jerusalem last week. The appearance of scores of immigrants, who carried such signs as "This Peace Is Killing Us" and "Yes to Peace, No to Capitulation," testifies that the movement against an Israeli-Palestininan peace deal has a strong base among the Russian grass roots.

Two main factors appear to have led Russian Israelis away from Barak: his ultimately unsuccessful compromise to keep the fervently religious, or haredi, Shas Party in his coalition; and the perception that he is willing to give away too much to the Palestinians in peace negotiations.

The concerns among the roughly 1 million-strong community are being fanned by leading Russian politicians, including cabinet member Natan Sharansky, who quit Barak's government before the Camp David summit began. Many Russian Israelis see Shas not only as a religious party but also as a lobbyist for Israel's second largest immigrant group — Moroccans.

Relations between Russian and Moroccan Israelis are tense. In addition to fighting for some of the same social service dollars, the Russians are generally secular, while the Moroccans are more traditional.

"The haredim hate the Russians. If you ask for the way, they tell you the wrong directions," claims Marina, a 52-year-old woman from Moscow who now lives in Jerusalem.

When Russians gave an estimated 55 to 60 percent of their vote to Barak in direct elections for prime minister in 1999, they did so partially because of his promise to curtail what Russians — like many others in Israel's secular community — see as the excessive power of the haredim.

But once in power, Barak, like other prime ministers before him, found that he had to negotiate with Shas, which, before it quit earlier this month, represented the second largest party in his coalition.

Another factor that has diminished Russian support for Barak is an ideology, imported from Russia, that views surrendering any land as a blow to national honor.

This attitude is a "legacy of Russia's imperial history. It is our unpreparedness to compromise, our unwillingness to surrender anything that has been conquered," said Victor Breilovsky, a member of the Knesset from the Shinui Party.

As a result, many Russian Israelis perceive Barak's policy of making territorial concessions in exchange for peace as dangerous and unjustified.

"We have had the experience of living under a totalitarian regime, which makes us suspicious and distrustful of negotiations and unguaranteed agreements with undemocratic states," Sharansky told reporters.

Many Russians, particularly those from Central Asia and the Caucasus — who have had firsthand experience with what they view as the Arab mindset — think that the Arab world should be dealt with only with force because force is all that world understands.

A group called Professors for a Strong Israel, which has many Russian members, recently launched a hunger strike to protest the peace negotiations.

"The main source of the problems now is the weakness and anguish in Israeli society," said one of the strikers, Mikhail Golosovsky.

Indeed, Russian President Vladimir Putin's popularity with Russian Israelis stems from his willingness to use force in Chechnya.

During Russian presidential elections earlier this year, 60 to 70 percent of those who have dual citizenship and cast their ballots at the Russian Embassy polling stations in Israel voted for Putin.

A poll conducted last week appears to confirm the increasingly negative attitude toward Barak among immigrants from the former Soviet Union.

The results showed only 23 percent of Israelis from the former Soviet Union have a favorable opinion of Barak, while 65 percent have an unfavorable opinion of him.

The poll also found that 65 percent said they did not trust Barak to make an agreement with the Palestinians that will protect Israel's security; 18 percent said they did.

The study of 500 immigrants had a margin of error of plus or minus 4.5 percent.

So in looking for a possible successor, Israel's largest immigrant community is apparently looking to someone believed ready to make a political comeback — Netanyahu.

The Russians' generally hawkish position is supported by the Russian-language media, which, observers, say, leans to the right, and the Russian shift to the right is reflected in Israel's Russian political parties.

Netanyahu, who resigned as leader of the Likud Party last year after Barak defeated him — and who could be indicted on charges that include abusing the public trust — might give the Russians what they want.

"Bibi has decided to come back," an aide to Netanyahu told reporters. "He is only waiting for a good time."

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