In an attempt to reach out to potential voters from the Russian immigrant community, Habayit Hayehudi (Jewish Home) leader Naftali Bennett assured Russian olim (new immigrants) that he sees them as being part of Israeli society and not a different sector.
Bennett met with Russian olim in Tel Aviv on Wednesday, and heard from them about the problems they face, including issues of conversions and financial difficulties. Some Russian immigrants had no choice but to return to their country of origin because they had difficulty making ends meet in Israel, the olim told Bennett.
"I do not see you as a separate sector," Bennett told the olim. "I am aware that there are problems that require treatment, such as pension and conversion, and I intend to invest great effort in change and improvement. But I do not treat your interests as something separate, because we are all part of the people of Israel and the name of our party is the Jewish Home - your home and mine, it belongs to all of us."
He added, "We want everyone to have a place in this home and that no one will feel like a stranger. We all made our way home and it was long road. Now we have to maintain and develop our home, stop the emigration from Israel because of the increase in the prices of real estate, food, and everything else, and because of the conditions which strangle the residents of the state. I served with Russian-speakers in the army. I worked with Russians in the high tech industry. And you know what, guys, you stopped being a sector long ago."
The Russian-speaking public inadvertently made headlines this week because of an election campaign ad by Shas, which depicted Russian immigrants as non-Jews who did not convert according to Jewish halakha.
The campaign, meant to target Avigdor Lieberman's Yisrael Beytenu party for its attempts to modify the Israeli rabbinate, caused a media storm and after a complaint was filed with the Central Elections Committee, Shas agreed to pull it from the airwaves for the sake of peace.
Bennett told the Russian olim he was against the Shas ads, saying, "The Russian speakers are people who contribute to the economy and to the State, who serve in the army and work long hours, they speak Hebrew and integrate into Israeli society because they came home. And this home is very important to them, because they have contributed a huge and important part to its establishment. Ads which create polarization among the people, such as the Shas election ad that was pulled from television after a big scandal, try to inspire and encourage hatred and racism in Israeli society and maintain sectarianism, promote stupid stigmas and harm the dignity of our brothers. I am not prepared to have people be insulted because of their origin, just like I would not be prepared to have this being done in my own home or to my own family."
Referring to issues of diplomacy, Bennett said, "We are the true centrist party. It is the Likud that broke to the left. How many missiles must land on us until we understand that in the Middle East you do not take the territory of our small State and give it to the enemy?"
"I cannot promise to solve all the problems in the country because it's just not possible. But I do promise to take the interests of all citizens into account," he said. "That's why we're here and that's our goal."