From Georgian Celebrity to Kadima List Candidate

On her last day of a work trip to Georgia, we sat in a small restaurant in the port city of Batumi on the Black Sea. The waiters had already cleared the table when they suddenly returned with a bottle of champagne.

"We did not order that," I said.

"I know," replied the waiter. "It's from the couple at the table behind you." Georgians, in principle, cannot stand the sight of an empty table, but this time their gesture had a different motive. Nino Abesadze turned around to say thank you, and the woman said to her husband, with a note of victory in her voice, "I told you it was her."

Years after immigrating to Israel and disappearing from the nightly news desk on Georgian state television, Abesadze is still recognized and remembered. Her husband even commented that, despite the strange language she now speaks, she continues to talk so fast. This characteristic could come in useful now, as Abesadze, 43, a senior political journalist for the Russian language Vesti newspaper, has only three weeks to convince party members to vote for her before the Kadima primaries.

Last week, Abesadze decided to accept the offer from Kadima chairwoman Tzipi Livni to run for one of the four spots reserved for immigrants. This was not an easy decision for Abesadze, but she is used to making important decisions in a hurry. Twelve years ago she went to interview Israel's first ambassador to Georgia in Tbilisi, Baruch Ben-Neria. Her prep notes included criticism of the absorption difficulties encountered by Georgian immigrants to Israel based upon her mother's and sisters' experiences, but something made Abesadze change her mind and she found herself planning her emigration from Georgia, with Ben Neria, and a new life in Israel.

Her reports on the Georgian civil war were replaced by the intifada and terror attacks in her new homeland. These experiences crystallized Abesadze's worldview, positioning her among the more left-leaning members of Kadima. When asked about her sense of her natural place on the left, Abesadze offers a complex explanation that also relates to the position of Russian speakers in the Israeli political spectrum.

"The Israeli left," says Abesadze, "from Labor leftward, did not really seek out Russian speakers. It arrogantly gave up on us. Meretz's short embrace with Roman Bronfman was too little too late. The Likud is not an option for me. Wild passivism is not part of my world view or my style. The immigrants are not the rightists they are portrayed as. Thus I found myself in Kadima, representing Russian speakers who think like me and whose voice is not heard. It is a known thing that most of the immigrants came here for their children and certainly not to lose them in unnecessary wars."

Perhaps Abesadze is right and something really is changing. Her candidacy was warmly accepted in the Russian media, which just like the Hebrew press is not over-generous in backing its own. Still, a panel of radio journalists reviewed her favorably.

"I figure this is also thanks to the fact that I represent a new generation that wants to speak politics and social affairs as an Israeli, but in a voice that comes from the [immigrant] sector."

Abesadze rejects the idea that there is no need for sectorial representation.

"There absolutely is a need," she says, "and genuine representation, too, not symbolic, at the bottom of the lists. The question is not only by whom, but for what. After all, this [wave of] immigrants fared very well. Most have jobs and apartments. What they lack is political influence from a position of power. What Yisrael B'Aliya did, for example, was take care of the immigrants from a position of weakness. That only crushed their pride, quietly - certainly that of the young people, but also of the older people. After all, even the grandmothers in the seniors' immigrants hostels do not want to busy themselves only with their problems with the National Insurance Institute; they want to participate in making decisions on the future of the Golan and Jerusalem, and not only because their grandsons are serving in the army. This immigration lacks a sense of equal political influence.

"When have you heard a Russian voice, apart from Yvette [Avigdor] Lieberman, who was asked his opinions on security matters? In his party, Israel Hasson and Yitzhak Aharonovitch are always speaking about these matters, but not the Russian Knesset members."

Abesadze brings her image of the socio-political situation of immigrants in Israel from her own home.

"I am always telling my daughters that the way they walk into a party, the image they radiate, is the way they will be perceived. That is how I view society as a whole: If we only complain, nothing good will come of it."

So Abesadze is not shedding any tears, except perhaps at the sight of the mountains of forms she has to fill in to submit her candidacy for Kadima. And no, she has no immediate goal of bringing about world peace.

"I would be satisfied with regional peace," she laughs.