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Ahead Of Elections, Israelis Talk Politics


Israelis are going to the polls this week in national elections. And yes, the big issues that are always part of Israeli politics are still there: the conflict with the Palestinians, the threat from Iran. But it's not just security that's on the minds of voters in Israel, especially young people. Last week in Tel Aviv, a bunch of 20-something Israelis gathered in a warehouse on the city's waterfront to talk politics.


UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN: Grazie, red wine here.

MARTIN: For 20 shekels, less than six bucks, they got wine in plastic cups and two hours of debate between candidates in Tuesday's parliamentary elections. Those elections will decide whether Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu will win another term in office.

NPR's Larry Abramson was there and he joins us now from Jerusalem. Hi, Larry.


MARTIN: So, what did you hear from these young voters? What is the main motivating issue for them in this election?

ABRAMSON: Well, of course, you can't ignore the issue of the peace talks with the Palestinians that are not going on right now. But the first issue is really money. It's very expensive here. You're facing U.S. prices with much lower incomes. Now, this crowd at this event was made up of a lot of new arrivals, like Rudo Rubin, who's a new citizen. He just came from France.

RUDO RUBIN: The cost of living is very high and if you don't have a good job, it's very expensive to have a good living here.

MARTIN: If these voters are concerned about the economy, who gets their vote?

ABRAMSON: It's not entirely clear. You know, it could push you to the left, for more social spending on housing, for example. Or it could push you to the right for more free market policies like Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has represented.

Rudo Rubin says he'd like to vote left but there are a whole bunch of different center and left parties he could choose from. Here's some more of what he had to say.

RUBIN: It's a bit difficult, I don't see the differences between each of the leaders. On the left, they are very divided and so I don't know what my vote would be the best.

ABRAMSON: Now you see the problem? Is that left wing parties have not been able to present a united front against the prime minister, and so the votes against him could be scattered all over a bunch of different parties.

MARTIN: And it must be complicate. I mean aren't there something like 12 parties expected to win seats in the Israeli parliament?

ABRAMSON: Exactly. Yeah, there are a lot of new parties and some of them are old parties with new leaders, and nobody really knows what their voting record is. They don't really have platform on the Web that you can look up. That's why there are a bunch of people like 24-year-old Nikki Avershol.

NIKKI AVERSHOL: I'm really undecided, which is why these events are really important, to hear not only from not only the heads of the parties, but a lot of different people within certain slates.

ABRAMSON: You know, there may be as many as one out of six people who are undecided. And their choices could really make a big difference in the election.

MARTIN: But, Larry, Benjamin Netanyahu is still poised to win this election, right?

ABRAMSON: Most likely, yes. And one big reason is that if security is your top concern, it's clear what you do: you vote on the right for Netanyahu, who many Israelis still trust when it comes to security. Or you can even go further right for Naftali Bennett. He has said that he does not support a state for the Palestinians.

I spoke with another young person about this issue that I met at another election event, this one in Jerusalem. His name is Ari Abromowitz.

ARI ABROMOWITZ: I think it's just a very simple Jewish pride, something that transcends the differences between us, whether you're orthodox or secular, whatever your background or identification is. If you're just proud to be a Jew, and you believe the land of Israel belongs to the Jewish people, then the Bayit Yehudi is your home.

ABRAMSON: That's the name of the right wing party that Naftali Bennett represents. And so, that's one way to look at things here; that those who vote based on the security issue have a clear choice, they vote for the right. And those who cite economic issues as the most important thing for them, they're just not sure what they should do.

MARTIN: Thanks so much, Larry. NPR's Larry Abramson in Jerusalem.

ABRAMSON: Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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