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Labor’s Goal: To Preach to the Half-Converted With PM-Israel-Election, Bjt

June 23, 1992

TEL AVIV, Israel (AP) _ At the end of his final election-eve pep talk to potential Labor supporters, Avigdor Kahalani allowed himself a small but telling joke.

″We’ve bought a special machine that examines fingerprints,″ the Labor Party activist told about 100 voters. ″So be careful, because I’m going to check the ballot slips to see how you voted.″

The joke revealed an underlying fear in the Labor Party: that voters who swore they backed Labor would recant at the last minute and vote for Prime Minister Yitzhak Shamir’s Likud bloc in today’s election.

The setting for the final shots of the campaign was appropriate: Tel Aviv’s Hatikva Quarter, a crowded rundown district of Sephardis, Jews of Middle Eastern descent.

It was places like Hatikva that swept Likud to power 15 years ago on a wave of resentment toward the European-born establishment personified by Labor. That’s why Labor appointed Kahalani, a Sephardi and popular former general, to breach this Likud stronghold.

Likud’s Benjamin Begin also chose to make the party’s final appearance in Hatikva. The popular 49-year-old lawmaker is the son of the late prime minister, Menachem Begin, a revered figure whose portrait hangs in many Hatikva homes and stores.

″The Hatikva Quarter is our home,″ explained Begin.

The ″disenchanted Likudnik″ has been one of the few interesting features of an otherwise lackluster campaign. They have been coming to Labor’s Hatikva branch in droves to declare their disgust with Likud’s economic policies, which have driven up unemployment, and with its ethnically tinged internal feuding.

On Monday night, those visiting the branch included Eli Azulai, a former senior Likud man.

Kahalani gave his pep talk on the patio of Yehuda Sinwani, a life-long Likud voter who has declared his change of heart by festooning his house with portraits of Yitzhak Rabin, Labor’s candidate for prime minister.

Such defections could make all the difference in this closely fought election. But will they hold up through the election?

Yehezkel Lifa, 37, a Hatikva butcher and Likud supporter, thought not. Alone by the ballot box, the disenchanted Likudnik would be unable to bring himself to vote Labor, he said.

He called Labor ″a hungry lion″ that would gobble up the modest rise in living standards achieved in Hatikva during Likud’s rule.

″Better a satan you know than a sultan you don’t know,″ he said.

Laborites say the issues alone don’t persuade waverers, because loyalty to Likud runs so deep that switching sides can be like changing religion.

David Ziso, a Labor-supporting publicist, said Likudniks tend to treat the party like a soccer team.

″Just because the team loses or does badly, you don’t abandon it. To cross the lines may be a little too much for some people.″

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