Barak Seeking to 'Putinize' Image to Attract Russian Vote

Labor chair mimics Putin 'we'll kill them on the toilet' remark as party launches campaign among immigrants.

In a bid to gain the vote of the Russian immigrants in the elections, Labor leader and Defense Minister Ehud Barak will quote Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin's statement about killing Chechen terrorists "on the toilet."

"As you people say, they should be wacked when they're on the toilet," Barak will say in a radio election broadcast intended for Russian speakers. Labor, which is launching its campaign among the Russian speakers this afternoon, will ask them to support him, as they did when he last ran for prime minister 10 years ago.

The indirect allusion to Putin is Barak's way of fashioning his image after that of an aggressive leader whom many Russian immigrants see favorably. In the coming weeks, he will try to identify with that as closely as possible. Ten years after winning the elections in 1999 with the support of 58 percent of the Russian immigrant population, Barak is now fighting for an additional Knesset seat with the help of the Russian vote.

Until a few weeks ago Barak was entirely irrelevant in the Russian street and polls indicated that Labor would get less than half a Knesset seat from the sector.

Barak hopes that the fighting in Gaza will change the tide and restore him as a player in Russian speakers' eyes.

"Unlike the failed Lebanon war, the war in Gaza was brutal enough and successful enough to score points for Barak," a political commentator who wished to remain anonymous said.

"Barak is lucky. Most Russians see this war as a failure, but Barak is identified with the military victory, not with its political failure," he said.

Under the halo of a military victory, Barak's messages in his address to the Russian public will be much more radical and aggressive than those in his Hebrew campaign. Russians are assumed to love power and to be looking for a strong leader and Barak will present himself as an answer to both these needs.

Labor sources say they expect to gain more than three Knesset seats with the Russian vote. Off the record, though, they say they're hoping to get one-and-a-half.

As a gesture toward the Russian speaking public, Labor has raised the slot earmarked for the token "immigrant" on its Knesset list from 21 to 19. Labor's immigrant campaign chief, MK Leon Litinsky, who is slated for that spot, will present the second radio broadcast in Russian. It will deal with Labor's socio-economic achievements vis-a-vis the immigrants.