Young and Russian-speaking? Apply to Kadima

Kadima is desperately seeking candidates, and wants at least two more Russian speakers, in addition to Deputy Absorption Minister Marina Solodkin and MK Michael Nudelman. Prospective MKs must be young, because the party skews old, and they must, of course, be able to express themselves well.

All party hopefuls of the Russian immigrant persuasion must pass a personal interview with party leaders, as well as an interview with Solodkin, followed by a poll to determine their popularity and a focus group to examine whether they are likely to help - or hinder - the party.

The personal interview includes questions on such critical issues as their positions on unilateral withdrawal. Workers in Kadima's immigrant election headquarters call the process "the biggest primary in the country."

Twelve Russian-speaking potential candidates, including academics and local government officials, are currently competing for two positions. The screening process is not easy: The local Russian-speaking political arena has featured the same names for years. There is no natural pool of public figures.

Yulia Berkovich, the former CEO of the Russian newspaper Vesty and the Russian television channel Israel Plus, is being given serious consideration. She has an impressive resume, as well as the apparent personal support of millionaire businessman Lev Leviev.

The candidacy of Anastasia Michaeli, a popular television presenter who is particularly beautiful and the mother of six, is being energetically promoted by MK Shimon Peres. Kadima is "considering" her, but there are reservations. Michaeli's visit last week to the Absorption Ministry to meet with Solodkin created unheard-of excitement among the employees of the dim offices.

Michaeli's supporters say her story - she converted to Judaism when she married - has an important message for immigrants. Her detractors claim she is good for Israelis because she fits their stereotype of Russian immigrants, but cannot do much for Russian speakers.

The delay in finalizing the candidates list, like the delay in launching its campaign, is already hurting Kadima's chances with Russian voters. Whereas Israelis on the whole understand and respect the party's silence since the hospitalization of Prime Minister Ariel Sharon, this silence has significantly eroded support for Kadima among Russian speakers.

The main reason for this has to do with the difference in the way Sharon's illness was covered in the Hebrew and Russian media. The coverage in Russian was less comprehensive, less emotional, with less focus on Sharon as "the father of the country."

"The Hebrew media did all the work for us, every time they talked about Sharon's illness," Kadima officials admit. "That didn't happen in the Russian media, and as a result the affect on the community is different."

Even though Kadima officials tend to ascribe this difference to the rightward tilt of the Russian media, the main difference seems to be cultural. Despite the great support for Sharon, the Russian-speaking community is allergic to anything that smells like a personality cult. According to senior figures in the local Russian media, their Hebrew colleagues went too far this time.

In the past few weeks, two or three of the nine Knesset seats that Russian-speaking voters were expected to deliver for Kadima have gone. The voters have not switched to another party, but now they are "undecided."

The immigrants who followed Sharon because of Sharon have been left with a team that even the old-timers do not really know. The immigrant election team is aware of the problem. It plans to present the Kadima leaders as a team, handpicked by Sharon. In the pipeline are responses to the propaganda of rival parties.

Solodkin and Nudelman will tell the stories of how they left immigrant parties and made their way to Kadima with the personal support of Sharon. He gave them respect, they will say. The voters will also be reminded that Solodkin has been promised a cabinet position in the next government. Also a matter of respect, you know.

Solodkin herself, who is popular with immigrants and identified with social welfare issues, "will wound Bibi [Likud Chairman Benjamin Netanyahu] mortally," as she puts it, for disproportionately hurting the immigrant community as finance minister.

"When he hurts old people and single-parent families, he hurts everyone because young people have to help their families, who in Israel have no security net," Solodkin explains.

On the diplomatic and security front - the main issue for Russian voters - Kadima is beginning to promote former Shin Bet head Avi Dichter.

"We have two people who won the war on terror," says Arkady Mazin, Kadima's campaign manager for the Russian sector, "[Defense Minister] Shaul Mofaz and Dichter. We will give them exposure and emphasize that no other party has such assets."