Labor Owes Its Big Election Win, at Least in Part, to Immigrants

Israel’s Labor Party owes its big win in last week’s elections in part to the country’s new immigrants.

According to the pollsters, 47 percent of the more than 300,000 new immigrants who voted in the June 23 referendum chose Labor, while only 18 percent supported the Likud.

Another 11 percent favored the left-wing Meretz party, while 1.4 percent voted for Tsomet, a far-right party whose share of Knesset seats skyrocketed from two to eight. But the new immigrant party Da was left out in the cold.

The bottom line is that the immigrant vote gave Labor an additional three or four Knesset seats, for a total of 44.

“The new immigrants from the former Soviet Union made a significant difference in the election’s outcome,” said Dr. Aharon Fein, a pollster for the Tatzpit Research Institute.

“Among the general population, including immigrants, Labor received 35 percent of the votes. Without the immigrants, the total was less than 32 percent,” he said.

Another way to appreciate the immigrants’ influence, Fein said, is to look at voting patterns in places where large numbers of immigrants have settled.

“Among all Israelis, Labor gained 15 percent more supporters than it had in 1988. But in those communities where many immigrants live, Labor increased its representation by 25 to 30 percent,” he said.

The pollster singled-out the coastal city of Ashdod as an example. “In 1988, Labor won 23.4 percent of the vote. Last week it won over 32.8 percent. That’s quite a jump, and it’s due mainly to the new immigrants,” he said.

WILL HONOR CAMPAIGN PROMISES

Fein, who has surveyed thousands of new immigrants since April 1990, said that the election returns offered no surprises.

“For several months, our findings have shown that the vast majority of these immigrants were dissatisfied with the Likud and would choose to vote left-of-center,” he said. “Even before this year, the indications have been that the olim were shifting from right to left.

“At the end of 1991, after the first big year of aliyah, we did a survey of olim who were in the country just a year,” Fein continued. “They were looking for jobs so they could take care of themselves. They found a society that wasn’t ready to absorb them.”

Now that Labor has the upper hand, the party says it will honor its campaign promises, both to new immigrants and veteran Israelis.

“It is not a question of feeling indebted to any one group,” said Yossi Genosar, who led Labor’s push to woo new immigrant voters.

Party leader Yitzhak Rabin “has felt and continues to feel a responsibility toward renewing the flow of immigration, of easing unemployment and finding homes for everyone. This is regardless of who voted for him or not,” Genosar said.

What happens remains to be seen, but Gregory Stern, a musician from Moscow, is hopeful.

“Sure, politicians are the same everywhere,” he said. “But when you vote in a democracy, at least you feel there is the opportunity to change the system. I only hope I’m not disappointed.”

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