Danny Ayalon 248.88.
(photo credit: AP)
Just two and a half weeks to election day, some 100 English-speaking Israelis gathered at Jerusalem's Shalom Hotel Thursday to get a better look at a party that has piqued the curiosity of many: Israel Beiteinu. "We don't trust anybody else," one participant told The Jerusalem Post.
The party has seen a spike in interest during the three weeks of Operation Cast Lead. It has overtaken the Labor Party in some polls - hitting as high as 16 seats in a Channel 2 poll Wednesday - and is on the road to becoming Israel's third-largest party in the coming Knesset.
This new attention, encouraged by the inclusion of Israel-born candidates to a list originally founded by Russian immigrants, has also included the English-speaking community, party officials say.
"The party has been generating a lot of interest," according to Danny Hershtal, No. 21 on the party's Knesset list and national volunteer coordinator for the Anglo campaign.
Yet the party suffers from "misconceptions that are bandied about," added Hershtal. "We want to make sure this constituency, which is important and likely to support our party, hears from the candidates themselves about the party's positions," he said.
The Thursday night gathering marked the first formal event held to attract English-speaking voters to the party.
According to Danny Ayalon, former ambassador to Washington, Anglos are "our natural audience. We haven't yet appealed to them directly, and we're doing that tonight."
Party leaders see the polls and expect to do well in the elections. "There's an unprecedented wind at our backs," said former Likud MK and Israel Beiteinu No. 2 Uzi Landau. "But even though the party's position is excellent, we don't know what the situation will be on election day. Will it rain? Will we be able to translate public support into a showing at the ballot box?"
According to Landau, "people are exasperated with zigzagging politicians. Israel Beiteinu is seen as a party that does what it says. Some people agree with us and some people vehemently disagree. But nobody questions our integrity. That's not something you can take for granted in today's politics."
"[Likud head] Bibi Netanyahu will form a government with Labor and Kadima. Israel Beiteinu is the bulwark that will allow the Right to carry out its policies," Landau said.
Added Hershtal: "We're interested in becoming the coalition-making party. We see Kadima dropping in the polls and we don't want to stop at just overtaking Labor. We want to be in a position to force the government to be answerable to the voters. We want to make sure a right-wing vote will mean a right-wing government."
The party has an inherent appeal particularly for the Anglo voter, according to Ayalon, bringing an English-speaker's respect for governance to Israel's chaotic politics.
English-speakers "understand what a healthy culture of governance looks like. They see around them a political system in collapse that lacks the ability to govern and does not offer real representation to the voters," he said.
In battling crime, Israel Beiteinu is championing an American-style system of local police instead of Israel's monolithic national police force. "A local police operating under the command of the mayor will be more familiar with its surroundings. It will be more effective and friendlier, something Anglo Israelis expect," says Ayalon.
Finally, English-speakers, "particularly Americans and Canadians, understand the meaning of national pride and self-respect. They understand that national service should be a requirement for national insurance stipends, that loyalty is a precursor to citizenship."