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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

EDITORIAL: Israel Shows No Russian Tsar Needed




It was certainly a short honeymoon. Already Sergei Stepashin is under fire from the Kremlin, struggling to convince people to join his Cabinet and generally looking like what he probably is: a temporary figure.


At times like these - when the government has fallen and the Kremlin is erratically reassertive - it is easy to see only the negatives of Russian political life. But this week, there was a strong hopeful signal that Russians understand and thrive in a democracy - that they can see through populism and demagoguery to identify their own political self-interest, and to defend it.


That signal came from Russian voters in Israel, who were instrumental in ousting Benjamin Netanyahu and replacing him with Ehud Barak.


Many Israeli politics-watchers had been predicting that Russians and other recent immigrants from the former Soviet Union, who together make up 14 percent of the Israeli vote, would back Netanyahu. It was said that Russians are historically captivated by the image of the strong tsar.


The Russians were also expected to want a hard line against the Palestinians in the peace process. As newcomers the Russians, it was said, did not have enough experience with the Middle East terrorism of recent decades to fully comprehend the pressing need for peace.


Yet the so-called "Russian vote" plumped for Barak. They dumped an authoritarian leader without batting an eye, because this was simultaneously in both their own self-interest and the national self-interest.


Both candidates had wooed this vote with pork-barrel promises. Barak offered to appoint former Soviet dissident Natan Sharansky to the Interior Ministry, which controls citizenship, residency and other key issues for immigrants. Netanyahu countered that he'd give Sharansky an unspecified high-level post, and offered subsidies to Russian World War II veterans.


The Russian vote was not fooled: It saw Netanyahu simultaneously courting hard-line Jews - who are much less warm to welcome more secular cousins from Moscow as citizens - and quickly sniffed out the hypocrisy.


They also were realistic enough about the nature of populism, terrorism and nationalism to choose the peace process - and not more of Netanyahu's stalling and sabotage. This is the sort of rational, pragmatic generosity that makes a nation truly great.


Russians thrive under democracy. Now, if only the Kremlin would permit real democracy to thrive in Russia, this long-suffering nation would blossom.