Bayit Yehudi English Forum chairman Jeremy Saltan.
(photo credit: Courtesy)
With less than a month until the January 14 Bayit Yehudi primary, the party’s candidates are courting English-speaking voters, who make up 5 percent to 7% percent of its membership.
There were 3,000,-4,000 Anglo members out of about 57,000 ahead of the party’s online membership drive, which began last week and ends on December 29.
More than 10,000 people joined Bayit Yehudi in the past week, making it the second-largest party after the Likud, which has some 99,000 members.
More of the English-speaking members made aliya from the US than from anywhere else and a plurality of them live in the 02 area code, meaning Jerusalem and the surrounding area.
Bayit Yehudi English Forum chairman Jeremy Saltan takes credit for enlisting nearly 3,000 members ahead of the 2013 general election and is working on more, calling for native English speakers to join the party and increase their impact.
“The Anglo vote was a significant voice in the last election and served as a kingmaker for several candidates.
With a larger field, it will play an even bigger role in this election,” Saltan said on Monday. “It is the Western olim who succeeded in pushing the agenda of democratic values of accountability, transparency and representation in the party.”
One Anglo candidate has officially entered the Bayit Yehudi race – Yossi Fuchs, the US-born chairman of the Legal Forum for the Land of Israel, who moved from Likud – and two high-profile party members are strongly considering doing so: Detroit-born Bayit Yehudi faction chairman Uri Bank and Torah Metzion kollel network CEO Ze’ev Schwartz, who hails from Johannesburg.
Bank, who was involved in National Union politics for 12 years and ran on the its list in the past, resigned from the party on Sunday to join Bayit Yehudi, a strong indication that he will run in the primary. He told fellow party members that he prefers Bayit Yehudi’s more liberal ideas on religion and state, now that the rabbinically oriented Tekuma faction is all that is left of the National Union.
Several Sabra primary candidates said that they hope to specifically address Anglos in their campaigns.
“[Anglos] joined in large numbers in order to influence the party, and I am in direct contact with them,” said Amiad Taub, chairman of the Bayit Yehudi Council of Chapter Leaders, who will either run in the general primary or for the 10th spot, reserved for a central committee member.
“I think they have an influence. Every united population with specific needs can increase its chance to meet those needs if it works together,” he added.
At the same time, Taub said he advocates immigrants integrating into general Israeli society and that Anglos do a good job with that and do not necessarily vote as a bloc. As such, he posited that his campaigning in Hebrew is effective for English-speaking voters, though he also recognizes their specific needs, as someone who lives in an area of Modi’in with many Anglos.
English-speaking Bayit Yehudi members “show great involvement in the party and in what happens in the country,” Rabbi Dr. Doron Danino, who is also running in the primary, said. “They care and that is important and I will listen to them. I think I can faithfully represent their needs.”
Danino suggested that he had a lot to offer to English-speaking Bayit Yehudi voters as someone who is a rabbi, a member of the Tzohar rabbinical association, and an academic, who lectures at Bar-Ilan University.
He said he has many ties to the Anglo community, having “adopted” many new immigrants who spent time in Kibbutz Sde Eliyahu, where he lives and having served as a Jewish Agency emissary in Europe for four years.
MK Motti Yogev pointed to “the Ingathering of Exiles” as one of Bayit Yehudi’s values, saying that he turns to immigrants to join the party not because they are worth so many votes, but because immigration and absorption is close to his heart.
Anglo immigrants “can contribute a lot to the country with their talents,” he said.
If those candidates want to know how to get the thousands of Anglo voters on their side, Saltan said: “The community is focused on issues such as public diplomacy, our connection to the Diaspora, absorbing new immigrants, and a more inclusive brand of religious Zionism.”