It’s a veritable gusher this election cycle of partisan events targeting the “Anglo voter.”
Intriguing. As a native English speaker, I assume they’re pointing at me, but it’s difficult to nail down a definition as to exactly who fits in the box. According to former MK Dov Lipman, there are approximately 300,000 Anglo voters in Israel and he thinks they require some tutoring to learn how to engage in the political system here.
Lipman recently founded an organization called “Our Time is Now,” with the mandate to encourage Anglos to sort out their partisan loyalties (in a very evergreen political landscape) and work it: take out memberships and pull up a chair to the decision-making table. But the trick to being “heard” in Israel, he stresses, is joining as a bloc. Only then will this group – such as it is – wield any true influence.
Which, of course, raises the question: what are the common issues that Anglos may wish to influence in the political arena, aside from more professionally translated restaurant menus? (Like “spatial” for “special” – one of my personal faves.)
Even if we accept Lipman’s numbers, which are pretty squishy and not exactly scientific, having been culled from various and random sources, the question persists: other than preferring to communicate in English, what other qualities are common to this cohort? And how do these traits engage the attention political candidates? In other words, what’s in it for them? Votes?
In this most recent election cycle, town halls for Anglos are a hot trend. Everyone is doing them. Well, almost everyone. So far I haven’t heard of Shas, UTJ, Yisrael Beytenu, Labor or Meretz events targeting English speakers. But the rest are doubling down, with Yesh Atid leading the pack.
Even Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu did his own English-language event a week ago. Masterful as always, he hammered Lapid relentlessly; a clear signal that his steady ascension in the polls is seen to be a real threat by Likud.
Having attended several of these remote events, I can confirm that it is flattering to be courted. But I can also say that I would never base my vote on this sort of outreach, although it may swing some. And in a race as close as this one seems to be, every mandate is a potential “closer” for the magic number of 61.
AYELET FRISH, a leading Israeli strategic consultant and regular commentator on political news shows, has an interesting take on the profusion of English-language town halls. She doesn’t see the English-speaking vote as any sort of unified bloc. Approximately 70% tend to vote right of center, but that’s where the similarities begin and end.
Holding one of these events, though, lends strong cachet to the Israeli party leaders. Once the event is posted on their social media pages – primarily Facebook – they demonstrate to Israelis that they are ready for the big leagues; that they can present a strong, articulate image to the world. Because, Frish says, whatever else is going on, at the end of the day, Israelis vote on one primary issue – security and foreign affairs.
And Netanyahu is not only the master of campaigning, but he is unrivaled in terms of profile and perceived effectiveness in defending Israel, tooth and nail, before the international community.
“We are a nation traumatized by the Holocaust, repeated wars,” Frish explains, and even those who loathe him tend to see Netanyahu as a peerless and proven commodity in representing Israel internationally.
She sees the Anglo event trend as a quick way for leaders to signal to Israelis that they are ready for the big leagues. Just like Netanyahu.
But, I think there’s something more to this Anglo thing. And I think that to a large degree it is getting lost in the usual campaign noise.
Anglos come from mature democracies where minority rights are fundamental and that critical feature is fostered by the separation of religion and state, however imperfect. As an aspirational goal of governments in the UK, the US, Australia and Canada – from which most olim immigrate – this sacrosanct principle is inviolable. We understand that deeply and it is for that reason alone that our communities were able to flourish abroad and our identity was preserved.
As a young liberal democracy, Israel has not yet managed to control the intrusions of religion into state matters to the degree Anglos might like to see.
And therein is the rub.
A QUITE comprehensive survey published recently by a fledgling organization – Anglo Vision – revealed a few gems on what makes Anglos tick. Over time, they found, Anglo olim tend to shift leftward in their voting habits. I have long had a hunch that even among religious nationalist Anglos, there is a profound respect for certain foundational principles of democracy that may not be as well-honed among Israelis at large. And they are more than a little spooked by the lack of concern among many on the hard Right for the democratic principles they hold dear. Very dear.
The Anglo Vision survey notes that the so-called Anglo vote is diffused among the major parties but concentrated with Yemina and Yesh Atid. No surprise there.
Naftali Bennett has an excellent command of English but also understands the immigrant mentality and challenges, being the son of olim. His appeal to the religious Zionist crowd is no surprise.
Yair Lapid is the closest political leader we have to North American. In addition to fluent English, he, too, is close to the immigrant experience, having at least one family member hailing from Canada. More importantly, he hews religiously to the values that we all bring from abroad: an abiding respect for the state and its institutions and understanding the importance of limiting religious influence. He is consistent, uncompromising and unfailingly articulate in his principles, something that is clearly noticed among English speaking voters. In a good way.
You’d think that Netanyahu, with his command of English and telegenic charm would be a shoo-in with Anglos. But not so. One of his key constituent cohorts is the haredim. The second is working-class Mizrachim. Fact is, most Anglo olim cannot abide the aggressive entitlement culture of haredi society and – wild guess – probably 99% of them are Ashkenazim. It’s not a good or bad thing, but we just don’t have a strong connection to Mizrachi culture or communities. So Netanyahu’s attention is on keeping and wooing what is more fertile territory for Likud.
An abiding value among Anglos – perhaps the penultimate issue - is that we live in a state where competing values and interests, at a minimum, respect the law of the land and truly protect and value all minorities. (The ultimate value, of course, would be that the state maintains its Jewish character in tandem with democracy.)
This, the essence of democracy, is what this election is about. If Anglo voters can influence the issue matrix in some small way, let it be to fortify the underpinnings of Israeli democracy.