Russians prefer men
Going by the figures relating to the Russian-speakers in the Israel Democracy Institute's "Democracy Index," Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni's situation in this public is more complex than that of the other candidates. This has nothing to do with the usual tendency of the Russian media to present her as a "leftist;" rather the immigrants will hesitate to vote for her simply because she is a woman.
Forget about the posters of the Soviet woman in heroic poses. In the chapter that deals with gender perceptions, 41 percent of Russian- speakers agreed with the statement "Men are more successful political leaders than women." For the sake of comparison, only one-quarter of veteran Israelis support this claim; since 2003 - when the "Democracy Index" project began - the annual assessment of the quality of democracy, in part through public opinion polls, "the immigrants" attitude toward women as leaders has become more flexible. However, it still remains closer to the opinion that prevails in the Arab public in Israel than to that of the Jewish public.
"Russians still have a certain problem with a woman in power," says Mikhail Filipov, 31, a doctoral student at Hebrew University and a researcher at the Israel Democracy Institute. "The gender roles in the Soviet Union were very clear. A woman can pave a road, but she has to rush home and make soup for her husband. The Russians are terribly chauvinistic."
Nonetheless, according to Filipov, there is something about Livni with which the immigrants can in fact identify: "The Russians really love innovation. They love to check out things that are different, especially during a difficult period and for them Livni symbolizes innovation. That is to say, she will have a hard time with this public but she also has potential."
Filipov draws his conclusions from his deep probing of the soul of Homo sovieticus even though he immigrated to Israel alone at the age of 15, this personality has never ceased to fascinate him. His working assumption, which is based on other research, is that the political culture of the immigrants has indeed been influenced by perestroika and the Israeli experience, but their social-political baggage is laden with values rooted in their country of origin.
Filipov has no pretense of depicting himself as having cracked the code that makes Homo sovieticus tick when he gets to the ballot box, but his analyses can help in the understanding of the motivations in the immigrants' vote. Homo sovieticus, he says, does not become extinct in the first generation of immigrants, but remains alive in Israel for a generation or two, at least. This is a complex entity with very simple mechanisms. At the center of his experience is "the enemy" - any enemy. "The 'enemy complex' is the characteristic that defines the Soviet person. Among Russians there is no rival and there is no quarrel. There is an enemy and there is a war. The Arab is an enemy, and the left, too, is not a rival but rather an enemy. The enemy is almost a monster."
According to the "Democracy Index," about 80 percent of the immigrants believe that the Arab citizens of Israel aspire to take over the country, as compared to 51 percent of the veteran citizens of Israel who think so. Homo sovieticus, according to Filipov's research, has difficulty in understanding a number of the basic rules of democracy and in supporting its values. On the contrary, it is evident that this public supports authoritarian rule and its preference is for a strong leader as an effective leader. Nearly 89 percent hold that such a leader is preferable to legislation and public debate - many more than Israelis as a whole.
The connection between the enemy complex and the desire for a strong leader might sound like good news for Yisrael Beiteinu MK Avigdor Lieberman. Not necessarily. The very fact that Likud MK Benjamin Netanyahu is running for prime minister affords him many bonus points in the arena of "the strong leader." Playing in Lieberman's favor is the preference of Homo sovieticus for solutions that are readily available and easily articulated; playing in Netanyahu's favor is the fact that people who come from "there" aren't scared by "swinish capitalism" - as long as it is the opposite of communism.
There is no data available that appears to play in favor of Defense Minister Ehud Barak.
And here is another surprising datum which deviates from the stereotype: Contrary to the common assumption that education and the economic situation are the top priorities for the immigrants - in fact they say that security is their main consideration in their vote in the elections. Fifty-two percent of the Russian-speaking respondents - twice the rate as among the Jews in Israel - believe that security is the main problem with which the government should deal. In contrast to 11 percent of the veteran population, only five percent of the immigrants replied that the main problem is the economy and even education is perceived among them as less critical for the government to deal with than it is among the rest of the population.
Nonetheless, a far higher percentage of them do not believe in their ability to influence government policy. "This alienation is certainly not going to be resolved by putting immigrants on the Knesset lists," laughs Filipov. "I don't know a single immigrant who will vote for a list because there is a Russian on it."
To this complex equation Filipov adds one more variable: the Russian - language media. Despite reports of their premature death, Filipov holds that they could have considerable influence on the elections if they decide to muster for the benefit of one or another of the candidates. "I am identifying commissioned articles," he says. No wonder that in many cases he himself is defined as an "enemy" by the subjects of his research.