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Israel Votes 2003 U.S. Fans of Likud Party Elated, Nervous After Big Win in Elections

January 30, 2003
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The television showed that their party was convincingly winning the elections in Israel, but as the images came in, American supporters of the Likud were nervous and even a bit subdued.

Seated in neat semi-circles around a television in a New York brownstone Tuesday night, the roughly 50 people from American Friends of Likud, and some fellow travelers, felt as much concern as joy.

Speaking to the group via telephone, Jerusalem Mayor Ehud Olmert crowed over the “total defeat of the left.”

Underlying it, however, was anxiety over how Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon would proceed with plans for ending the Palestinian intifada.

Following the prime minister’s strong showing, Richard Hochstead, who works for the state of New Jersey, said he hopes “Sharon is more like Sharon” — that is, that he will take a harder line toward the Palestinians.

The group shared a concern for putting Israel’s security first.

“The prime minister is going to be looking to American Friends of Likud for ideas” and “for the pulse of the Jewish community” in America, said Philip Rosen, the group’s chairman.

The group’s message is “security No. 1, 2 and 3,” Rosen told JTA, adding that if interested American Jews had voted the results would have mirrored those in Israel.

Despite the Likud’s dominance, Sharon will have to form a coalition with several other parties to reach the 61 members necessary for a majority in the 120-seat Knesset.

It is unclear whom Sharon will invite to join the coalition. But at the event in New York, the feeling was clear: Keep Labor out.

Helen Freedman, executive director of the hawkish Americans for a Safe Israel, earned applause when she urged the group to support a narrow right-wing government.

“To bring Labor into the party and then continue to talk about a Palestinian state” means “the end of Israel,” she said.

“After 10 years of Oslo, it feels good that our ideas are being vindicated,” added Gerard Apelbaum, 30.

For some in attendance, Likud’s resounding victory wasn’t enough.

“I was hoping that Labor would be completely demolished, that the Israeli public would completely reject the bankrupt politics of Labor” and its efforts to “find redeeming qualities among the Palestinian terrorist leadership,” said Joseph Silver, 49, a New Jersey attorney.

While Jewish National Fund staffer Karen Paiken, 29, would like to include any party that would embrace Likud, “I think the people here would like to see a right-wing government.”

And her feeling of triumph was tempered by practical concern.

“Finally, the dream of the Likud and of the right is coming true,” she said. But while she felt she was “watching history in the making, there’s going to be a challenge making a government.”

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