JERUSALEM (May. 28)
Suddenly, the focus of Israel’s election campaign has shifted from verbal violence and some mild pushing and shoving at political rallies to terrorist killings and waves of ugly racial violence that have come in their wake.
But if anything is a measure of the openness and complexity of the current political situation less than a month before the national elections, it is the fact that the recent murders have so far not produced a rightward lurch in public opinion.
There was widespread rioting by Jews and chants of “death to the Arabs,” burning of Arab crops and attacks on their villages, following the murders by Gaza Strip Arabs of 15-year-old Helena Rapp outside her home in Bat Yam on Sunday and of Rabbi Shimon Biran, 32, of Kfar Darom in the Gaza Strip on Wednesday.
A similar incident just three days before the 1988 elections became the key factor in the “return home” of tens of thousands of Likud supporters, according to many analysts.
In that case, Rachel Weiss, a Jerusalem woman, and her two children were killed by Arab terrorists on a bus in Jericho.
This time, pundits are saying, the effects of the tense security situation are more complex.
The government, meaning mainly the Likud, is widely being held responsible, in this case for not doing enough. In many cases, voters say they will forsake Likud in favor of far-right parties.
But — and this is the new element — there are many people out on the streets, in shops, on buses, overheard saying openly that they will vote for Yitzhak Rabin, the Labor leader, rather than Yitzhak Shamir, precisely because of the “security situation.”
While Shamir and Likud are known for their political hard line, Rabin is remembered as a very tough defense minister in the last Likud-Labor unity government, who fought the intifada with no holds barred.
If pro-Rabin sentiments being heard do represent a trend, it will prove a dramatic vindication of the Labor Party’s decision to replace its longtime leader, Shimon Peres, and replace him with Rabin.
150 RIOTERS ARRESTED
Meanwhile, police in Bat Yam used tear gas and water cannon to subdue more than 3,000 Jewish rioters Wednesday night. Over 150 rioters were arrested, including those police described as “criminal elements” from outside the community.
Two policemen were injured by bricks and bottles hurled from the streets and rooftops. The rioters converged on the town’s main intersection in what seemed to be a well-coordinated maneuver and refused to obey police orders to disperse.
A march and demonstration were scheduled for Thursday in Bat Yam. Ze’ev Rapp, father of the murdered schoolgirl, appealed to his friends and neighbors to keep it peaceful.
In the Gaza Strip, Jewish settlers from Kfar Darom and neighboring communities continued to set fire to Arab cultivated fields and greenhouses Thursday and uprooted trees in Arab-planted orchards.
They attempted to drive a tractor into a U.N.-supported Palestinian school.
During the night, settlers planted three mobile homes on Arab land, which they said would be the nucleus of a new settlement, to be named in memory of Rabbi Biran.
The Israel Defense Force made no move to stop them and did not interfere when the settlers brought a bulldozer to level the ground. At dawn, however, the IDF simply towed the mobile homes away.
CAMPAIGNING FOR THE CENTER
The murdered Kfar Darom rabbi, meanwhile, was buried Thursday, leaving his wife, Michal, and four children, ages 8 months to 7 years. Biran was born in London and came to Israel with his parents in 1970.
He had planned to study medicine but switched to rabbinical studies and was ordained in 1986. He worked at the local Torah and Land Yeshiva, which applies the Torah’s commandments concerning agriculture to current agricultural concerns.
While the events of recent days doubtlessly will impinge on the political process, Rabin is making a determined effort to place himself in the center of the political spectrum, believed to be most representative of the national consensus.
His latest campaign advertisement, published Wednesday, shows him flanked by Shamir on the right and by Yossi Sarid, of the leftist Meretz faction, on the left.
The message is that Rabin stands equidistant from both extremes.
This drew angry responses from Meretz, which sees itself as a natural partner of Labor in a new coalition government. There was some grumbling among Labor doves. One of them, Yossi Beilin, sent Sarid a telegram saying the offending advertisement represented “the opinion of a marginal minority” in the Labor Party.
It seemed to signal Rabin’s preference for another unity government with Likud to a coalition with the leftist bloc.
Nevertheless, seasoned observers say Rabin’s campaign tactics before the elections need not necessarily shape his preferences if he wins. He may believe that by distancing himself from Meretz he can woo former Likud voters.
(JTA correspondent Hugh Orgel in Tel Aviv contributed to this report.)