Does Anglo Vision have the vision to succeed?

English-speaking olim often find Israel not very welcoming to them.

Anglo Vision founder David Fine (photo credit: DAVID FINE)
Anglo Vision founder David Fine
(photo credit: DAVID FINE)
Browse any supermarket or makolet in Jerusalem and the impact of the Anglo community on Israeli life becomes clear. Israeli candy bars struggle to compete for space alongside their American and British counterparts, while the condiments aisle is awash with barbecue sauces, ketchups and chutneys. And, of course, as in every corner of the globe by now, Coca-Cola, that most American of brands, is ubiquitous.
Address the cashier in English, and they are likely to be able to converse with you. In the world of commerce, then, the Anglo community in Israel has been a roaring success. So why is has its impact been felt so minimally at the political level?
For David Fine, founder of Anglo Vision, who arrived in Israel 12 years ago, the path ahead is clear: Anglos in Israel should coalesce into a political force to be reckoned with in order to meld the best of the Common Law tradition of the anglosphere countries, such as direct representation, with the unique opportunities Israel offers Jews, in order to build an ever-better country for all.
He estimates there are 300,000 to 400,000 Anglo Israelis living in the Jewish state right now, which if translated directly into votes, could net an Anglo party as many as 14 seats. This may be an overestimation; Yisrael Beytenu, which early on relied heavily on mobilizing the 1.5 million former USSR citizens at the ballot box, hit a high of 15 seats in the 2009 elections but has been on the wane since then. For Fine, though, it’s not about the numbers.
“It really comes down to wanting to contribute more and trying to change things for the better, but people don’t really know how to do that. People think, ‘I’m going to change the way Israel is governed? Who am I [to do that]?’” he told the Magazine.
“So we’re saying: ‘Yes, if we come together and show some political strength then it is possible that we could at least have a seat at the table in terms of influencing the policy makers here in Israel.”
His supporters point out that there are other benefits too. For Joshua Robbin Marks, an oleh from Washington who made aliyah in February, Anglo Vision’s desire to lobby for benefits for English speakers, such as more support in learning Hebrew and better help in finding work, presents an opportunity for English-speaking immigrants to make the transition to Israel more seamlessly.
“I support the mission of Anglo Vision because Israel must do a much better job of integrating English-speaking olim,” he said. “While it is important to learn Hebrew, that is a journey to fluency that can take several years. Meanwhile, English-speaking olim often find Israel not very welcoming to them and end up back in their countries of origin after a year or two.”
FOR MARKS, Anglo representation in the Knesset makes sense.
“I would certainly consider voting for Anglo Vision if they formed a political party for representation in the Knesset,” he said. “It is very important for English-speaking olim to have a voice in Israeli politics just like other constituencies, as long as it is committed to Zionism and integration into Israeli society.”
A recent poll revealed that he is not alone. In September Anglo Vision sponsored a poll of Anglo-Israelis, and found that three quarters saw themselves as belonging to an Anglo community in Israel. Of those, 36% said that the community must organize themselves politically in the way Russian-speaking immigrants did. 31%, on the other hand, felt there was no need, and 20% thought it had already happened.
The poll found strong support for issues Anglo Vision backs, including fighting the BDS movement, making aliyah a national priority, and having six to eight paid Sundays off a year. But only 8% said they would vote for an Anglo party, and the group was split politically: about half were right-wing, a quarter centrist, and just over one in five were left-wing.
Older olim, however, have been here before.
“There is a long proud history of abject failures by prior attempts to form Anglo-centric parties,” said Gary Pickholz, a Jerome A. Chazen Scholar at Columbia University who made aliyah from American in 1993.
“There are three problems: (a) 94% of Israelis do not come from Western Anglo democracies and truly do not share our basic values and beliefs; (b) while influencing Israeli society and politics to become more Western is highly commendable, it is not the primary political purpose for a political party. It needs to be integrated into the major parties across the political spectrum but is not the primary topic around which to form a new party; and (c) Anglos are a small minority; an Anglo-centric party could never expect to comprise more than a minimum of votes party in any coalition.”
North American olim arrive in Israel on a Nefesh B'Nefesh flight (Flash90)
FOR OTHERS, their objection to an Anglo party is not so much practical as it is ideological.
“Israel is a melting pot, similar to the US. Even though it is made up mainly of Jews, these are people with generations of history from almost every corner of the planet. Until Nefesh B’Nefesh, most of the people who came here did so because they wanted to live in Israel and create a working society. Since Nefesh B’Nefesh, Americans coming here want to change Israel into America,” noted one 20-year resident of a moshav in Judea, a Brooklyn native who asked to remain anonymous.
“Besides, who are you to say that your way brings any benefit to the society you are trying to integrate into?” he added. “If you want to see whether your way meshes with the established society, then be a part of it and time will tell if it’s a good fit. If you want to influence anyone, be the best ‘you’ that you can be, and let them choose if they want to emulate you and embrace your ‘better’ way.”
Pointing out that Westerners often strongly criticize Arabs who immigrate to Western countries only to form ghettoized communities in their host country, he suggests that the Jewish family should be seen as a family, with each individual making their own unique contribution.
“Just as everyone has their own occupation, leading to a complete society, so too with philosophies and ideologies.”
FOR FINE, this is precisely what Anglo Vision is trying to do.
“We’re not interested in ghettoization at all,” he said. “We’re against that. We think all Israelis should become integrated as fully as possible, but there is no escaping that we all come with different backgrounds and there are things that if they were implemented here would make Israel an even better place than it already is. We just want to bring things from where we came in order to make things better. That’s really the goal.”
Aware of the criticisms, he remains optimistic.
“Although the overwhelming response [has been] positive, there are a million questions here,” he said. “There are a lot of reasons why this may not work. There are a lot of reasons to criticize. But I tend to be a positive person who wants to try to see if – look, Israel’s a great country; every aliyah has brought something to the table in terms of improving Israel so we just think that we could do the same.”
Anglo Vision was founded only in February and Fine admits that they are still very much in the fact-finding stage of development, with ongoing discussions over whether the group should coalesce into a political party, a lobby group, or something else. But he remains undeterred by those who say it can’t be done.
“There have been a lot of suggestions as to why [it hasn’t been achieved before],” he said.
“Someone suggested that no one has ever really tried. As far as we can tell, no one has ever really tried to do what we are doing, so that could be a reason. Someone suggested that Anglos are much more easily integrated into Israel than other groups and been more successful than other groups, so there’s not really the need to do this.
“Some say people want to shed the term ‘Anglo’ because they came to Israel to not be identified as an Anglo but to be identified as an Israeli, so there are all these different theories but no one really knows.”
As to whether Anglo Vision can succeed where angels fear to tread, only time will tell.