English-speaking voters scarcely targeted by Israeli political parties

The Anglo angle

July 12, 2019 06:57
English-speaking voters scarcely targeted by Israeli political parties

The ballot slips in an election booth that represent the various parties only contain Hebrew letters, with no translation into Arabic, English or any other language. (photo credit: MARC ISRAEL SELLEM)


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One of Israel’s odder characteristics is the practice of dubbing citizens who happen to have English as their mother tongue “Anglos,” no matter from what part of the globe they chance to emanate. Whether you hail from New York, Vancouver, Cape Town or Sydney, to say nothing of London’s Golders Green, you’re an “Anglo” – which is actually a truncated version of “Anglo-Saxon.”
In fact, one nationwide and highly respected real estate agency in Israel trades under the sobriquet “Anglo-Saxon” – a clear signal to clients that “English is spoken here.”
Israeli citizens with English as their mother tongue are, therefore, a recognized sector of Israeli society, but they are only a minor sector. The Central Bureau of Statistics recently estimated them at almost 200,000 individuals, but organizations such as AACI (the Association of Americans and Canadians in Israel) and ESRA (the English Speaking Residents Association) claim the actual figure ranges between 250,000 and 300,000. Still, in a total population of nine million, this is very nearly insignificant – except, of course, to the people concerned. Given this statistic, however, it is perhaps surprising that when the last election loomed on the political horizon, Anglos and their particular needs figured at all in the consideration of the political parties.
Yet a fair number did go out of their way to address an English-speaking audience. Perhaps they did so recognizing that while some fortunate people have a natural facility with language, for many who have acquired a working knowledge of a second language it is often a struggle to read or write in it. Or perhaps it is simply acknowledging that although Hebrew became Israel’s sole official language in July 2018, English is pretty much universal.
Before the last election on April 9, no less than 47 parties registered to participate. Some parties made no effort to venture beyond Hebrew in their pre-election promotion. United Torah Judaism, Shas and the Arab parties, and also the lists in which they participated, did not bother to set up websites or to open Twitter or Facebook accounts. The little they did to reach out to voters by way of leaflets and phone calls was couched in Hebrew. Surprisingly, the Blue and White joint list, which played such a major role in the election, also did not run a website to which interested voters, English-speaking or not, could turn for information. 
This deficiency was partly made good by the efforts expended by Yesh Atid, a founding partner in Blue and White in the alliance formed by the Israel Resilience party, Telem and Yesh Atid specifically to contest the election. Yesh Atid ran an impressive website in English that set out its platform in detail, together with information about party members and planned political gatherings.
It established a closed group on Facebook, and fostered debates and meetings in English. Neither its main partner, Israel Resilience, nor Telem were to be found on the Internet.
The two main parties to the left of center were Labor and Meretz. The Labor party hosted a website that set out the party’s political platform in colorful detail, together with information about its candidates. The site was in Hebrew, but the touch of a button presented all the material in English. Meretz, though, confined its Internet presence to the Hebrew language, as did the center parties Kulanu and Gesher.
The governing party, Likud, vied with Yesh Atid in the effectiveness of its online presence and the presentation of its policies to English-speaking voters. It ran a website in English, which set out its policies, listed its candidates, and provided ongoing news of the campaign.
At the same time, Likud like several other parties ran Twitter and Facebook accounts, offering voters the chance to comment and provide opinions on the changing political scene.
The hawkish New Right party, led by the prominent figures Naftali Bennett and Ayelet Shaked, ran a website in Hebrew only. The Union of Right-Wing Parties did not bother with a website at all. The only right-of-center party in addition to Likud, which attempted to reach out to English-speaking voters, was Yisrael Beytenu, the party established in 1999 by Avigdor Liberman, whose main constituency is Israel’s large Russia-originating population. It set up a website providing basic information in Hebrew about the party and its objectives, but with the nominal capacity to convert the contents to Russian and English.
This option, while working for Russian speakers, unfortunately failed to function for English speakers. The party would be well advised to repair the site before campaigning gets under way for the September 17 vote.
During the last election campaign, Anglos keen to discover the political choices open to them would have had to scour the Internet with determination. If they confined their search simply to what the political parties provided, they would have gained only a sketchy picture. Fortunately, for those determined enough to persevere, there was a clutch of other organizations intent on catering to the political needs of Anglos. It is to these bodies, as much as the political parties, that Anglo voters will be able to turn in the run-up to September’s election.
The Israel Democracy Institute is an independent organization dedicated to strengthening the foundations of Israeli democracy. As part of its wide range of activities, its English-language website provides a comprehensive rundown of all the parties and joint lists competing in each general election, together with the main planks in their political platforms.
The Jewish Virtual Library is an invaluable source of intelligence about Israel – its past, present and possible future. Its website is a treasure house of information in general, and of detailed political material during an election campaign. The JVL is run by the American-Israeli Cooperative Enterprise, a nonprofit and non-partisan organization set up in 1993 with the aim of strengthening the US-Israel relationship.
In the run-up to the April election, a body called “Secret Tel Aviv” provided what it described as “the ultimate elections guide.” Its English-language website was indeed replete with information about the participating parties and their policies, and encouraged comments both directly and by way of its Facebook account. Set up in 2011 by an Anglo and his wife, both originally from Manchester, Secret Tel Aviv is dedicated to helping what it describes as “internationals” to settle in Israel, assisting their businesses to grow and fostering the integration of immigrants and native Israelis.
And then, believe it or not, there is the Tony Blair Institute for Global Change (IGC). Of all the websites available on the Internet, including the special election editions of Israel’s English-language newspapers, the best, fullest, most comprehensive survey of the parties, their policies and their leading figures was provided by the IGC, simply as a minor byproduct of its main purpose. The organization has a worldwide task to help countries, their people and their governments tackle some of the major problems they face.
In respect to the Middle East, the IGC has a special objective, perhaps a hangover from Blair’s period as special envoy for the Middle East Quartet: “To increase stability and understanding between Israel and the Palestinians.” If the IGC undertakes the same in-depth coverage of Israel’s political scene for the forthcoming election, Anglos will be well-served.
Finally, there is the official website of the Knesset Central Elections Committee available in three languages: Hebrew, Arabic and English. The website was created prior to the April election specifically, as the chairman wrote, “to assist each of you in your efforts to come to an educated decision.”
The website provided a wide range of information about the election process, the candidate factions, the election laws, and statistics about previous elections. In addition, there was information relevant to Election Day itself, including the arrangements for voting.
In short, before voting day comes around on September 17, Anglos will have a wealth of data available to them, provided they have the will and inclination to seek it out. On the evidence of the April election, the most obvious deficiency is that Anglos who may be attracted to one of the minor parties, or to Blue and White, have little opportunity to connect directly with it in English.
For a political party to enter an election in 2019 without a website appears an act of deliberate self-harm. To set up a Hebrew-only site, when it requires only minimal effort and money to enable conversion to English, seems perverse.
Perhaps the political parties – and especially Blue and White – have reflected on the deficiencies in their effort last time. If so, they will surely provide voters in general, and Anglos in particular, with an improved service in the forthcoming campaign. 

The writer is Middle East correspondent for Eurasia Review. His latest book is The Chaos in the Middle East: 2014-2016. He blogs at: www.a-mid-east-journal.blogspot.com 

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