Opinion

Indictment of 'Russian' Politicians a Celebration for Russian Israelis

The corruption charges against Yisrael Beiteinu bigwigs can open the door for true leaders of the community, even if Russian-speakers don’t have their ‘own party’ anymore.

Former Minister Stas Misezhnikov and former Deputy Minister Faina Kirschenbaum.
Michal Fattal, Illan Assayag

The day of the announcement of the indictments in the Yisrael Beiteinu affair was a day for celebration. It wasn’t only a red-letter day for the police and state prosectors, who have suffered endless grief over affairs that dragged on for years and finished with nothing. (Yisrael Beiteinu chief Avigdor Lieberman was at the center of one such affair.) Indictment day was also a great day for Israel’s Russian-speaking community.

For them, the trial of the bigwigs of the party that (to most Israelis) represents the Russian-speaking community is likely to be a first step on the way to liberation. At least that’s what I’d like to believe.

I don’t mean liberation from the party or its influence, but from the warped power relations that the party took part in. (And I sure hope the past tense turns out right here.) In these warped relations, one political force amasses financial and human resources, letting it control public opinion.

Russian-speaking Israelis celebrating the country in Tel Aviv's Yarkon Park, March 2006.
Pavel Wolberg

The voter – who reads about, hears about and sees the community’s supremos on every possible stage – doesn’t demand achievements but rather, at most, favors. Voters closer to the inner circle seek perks and get them. Journalists, some of whom are dependent on the party, are either under constant pressure or serve their masters wholeheartedly, while the people with power and the high-profile activists get well-greased.

Thus remote areas don’t get playgrounds, which would be a good thing except that the moment the budgeting comes from the party’s coalition slush fund and isn’t allotted via the proper channels, the town becomes a borrower. So instead, subsidized events are organized for the Russian-speaking community in cities like Be’er Sheva, Bat Yam, Ashdod and Ashkelon. These events always take place in the presence of party leaders; meanwhile, sinecures are arranged and money flows.

Who’s left out? The voters waiting for word from the generous leaders – the pensioners, contract workers, young people who can’t get married in their own country, alienated youths.

It would be naive to assume that a few indictments will change the system. Still, a broad net has snared big fish including media people, lobbyists, public servants and elected officials. The investigation has stirred hopes that the structure corrupting the Russian-speaking community can be shaken up. It has set in motion a process that can produce leaders who win people’s votes by fighting for them, not extorting them.

Of course, it’s possible no such unified leadership will arise, and Russian-speaking Israelis’ votes will be split among the parties that appeal to the “general public.” But even then, the community’s worthy representatives in the Knesset and Russian-speakers in the media, academia and the judiciary will contribute a great deal more to the community than Yisrael Beiteinu ever did.

The last election already reflected the erosion of that hegemony and forced the party to take steps (some of them largely declarative) to show voters from the former Soviet Union that they’re the top priority. Liberation from the chains of mutual back-scratching will heal the community and help it flourish.