Precious Russian Vote Keeps Lieberman Safe, for Now

At the height of an election campaign where everything is personal, it's good to be Avigdor Lieberman. The chairman of Yisrael Beiteinu enjoys double protection, with both Likud and Kadima making sure not to attack his party in their campaigns among Russian-speaking voters. So far, only Ariel Sharon, of whom Russian-speaking voters thought particularly highly, was more protected. Among other reasons, both parties' campaigns assume that a personal attack on the most popular politician among the Russian-speakers can turn into an electoral boomerang. However, pundits in this community contend that this policy helps give Lieberman a monopoly over its votes.

The non-belligerence agreement with Likud chairman MK Benjamin Netanyahu is based on the long-time relationship between the two men, and is supposed to be mutual. It is also based on preserving the option of a merger between the two parties. Likud leaders who see not attacking Lieberman as a tactical mistake say cynically: "Bibi is keeping the option open of unification, which will never happen." Meanwhile, Lieberman has given himself the right to attack Netanyahu in the Russian-language media.

Kadima's campaign has taken a similar tack, at the behest of its strategic consultant, Eyal Arad. The head of the campaign's organizational wing, MK Marina Solodkin, says protecting Lieberman is a mistake; he should at least be publicly criticized. "I was overruled," Solodkin told Haaretz yesterday, adding that she intended to bring up the matter with Kadima chairwoman Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni and with Knesset Speaker Dalia Itzik. "In the Russian street, it's not enough to say Bibi [Netanyahu] is bad, and Tzipi is good. Another strategy is needed before it's too late," Solodkin said.