As the Feb. 10 Israel election draws near, it is no surprise that many Jews in our area are watching closely. For one group – Jews from the former Soviet Union – the election has become something of a mission, spurring the formation of a coalition engaged in long-distance politicking.
Having grown up under Soviet power, their fear is visceral, said Julian Rapaport of Passaic, the spokesman for a group that recently circulated an open letter urging fellow Soviet Jews in the U.S. to call on friends and relatives in Israel to vote a certain way.
“If Israel would fail, it would hit Jews all around the world,” Rapaport said, raising the specter of another holocaust. “We were the subject of discrimination; we know about that first hand.
While Rapaport’s group does not specifically state its political orientation, its views are decidedly to the right.
“We do not support liberal policy,” said Rapaport. “We feel American Jews are too liberal, because they do not feel the danger in the world,” he continued.
Explaining the political divide, he said that while most American-born Jews who voted in the presidential election chose Barack Obama, most Jews from the former Soviet Union chose John McCain.
The letter states, in part, “The next prime minister and the government he forms will be existentially important…. We are not telling you which party, coalition, or candidate to vote for – it is your decision and your fate – you know better. However, think before casting your vote!”
Rapaport, a native of Kiev in Ukraine and a resident of Passaic, said there are some 1 million residents of Israel who come from the former Soviet Union. “They will understand our message very well,” he said.
Israelis vote for parties, rather than individuals. The leader of the party with the most votes becomes prime minister and forms a government.
“We don’t say who to vote for, we say don’t be careless with your vote,” said Rapaport. His group opposes giving up land and object to groups on the left who advocate that position. “That is our political stand and we are not hiding this,” Rapaport said.
Israel’s prestige is at a low point now, the letter states, and the group blames the country’s current leadership. They cite a “left-leaning” press and oppose any thought of partitioning Jerusalem or surrendering land.
Rapaport said the signers of the letter, many of whom are regular contributors to the Russian-language Jewish press, are known to the readers of those papers. Their aim, he said, is to influence readers in the United States to urge their friends and relatives in Israel to vote in a particular way.
Another signer of the letter, engineer and author Yuri Okunev, a native of St. Petersburg, spoke about a special connection to Israel, where he has friends and relatives.
“What is good for Israel is definitely peace,” he said. “But how to reach this peace? I don’t believe negotiating with terrorists will do it.”
He also said a vote for the left means a tilt toward socialism. He spoke of being treated as a second-class person in the former Soviet Union, in spite of any of his achievements. Many liberals do not realize how close they are to Soviet-style socialism, he said.
Not all the signatories are Russian. Buddy Macy of Little Falls, a former official at the Jewish Federation of Greater Clifton-Passaic, is one. Another signer is Bob Kunst, president of Shalom International, a pro-Israel group based in Miami Beach.