Thursday, January 10, 2013

First Time Anglo Voters Get More Attention In Flooded Field of English Speaking Candidates

When the debate moderator asked the candidates representing the major parties what their parties would do to prevent a third intifada, “I’m from America,” Jeremy Gimpel #14 on the Bayit Yehudi list said. “We don’t talk to terrorists. In America, we eliminate terrorists.”

New Jersey native, candidate for Tzipi Livni's Hatnu'a party, Alon Tal shot back: “There are graves in the Wild West that say, ‘Here lies John Smith, who exercised all his rights,’ ” Tal said. “Do we want to find a pragmatic solution or do we want to be self-righteous?” 

While English-language campaigns aren’t new in Israel, candidates and observers say this year’s effort feels larger and more sophisticated than those of elections past, the Jewish Week writes.

American-born candidates such as Gimpel, Tal and Dov Lipman of Yesh Atid are hosting parlor meetings in American homes, while party leaders like Yesh Atid’s Yair Lapid and Jewish Home’s Naftali Bennett have addressed large crowds in English. In addition, The Jerusalem Post has sponsored four English debates in Anglo-heavy population centers. Some parties even have English bumper stickers and fliers.

“The English-speaking community is finally stepping up to the plate, as we become more comfortable and understanding of the system,” said David London, executive director of the Association of Americans and Canadians in Israel, which co-sponsored The Jerusalem Post debates.

“My mother tongue is English, so I wanted to empower the English-speaking immigrant community,” said Gimpel, 33, who moved to Israel when he was 11 and is on the verge of entering the Knesset. “They have someone they can turn to.” 

“In America, haredim have education, there are opportunities and they work,” said Dov Lipman, who himself is Orthodox. “That issue bothers us more because we know there’s no contradiction” between working and being haredi.

“Part of the Anglo immigrants are right-wing religious, but a large percentage are not,” Tal said.
They are “very much in line with mainstream Israel," added Lipman.

Many Israelis, and especially politicians, speak fluent or proficient English, but Lipman said English-speaking voters can identify particularly well with native English-speaking candidates. “Your English can be as good as you want it to be, but if you’re coming from America you can connect with immigrants in a much better way,” he said. “My passion to make Israel great is driven by us being relatively new.”

Gil Troy, a McGill University history professor who is now a fellow at Jerusalem’s Shalom Hartman Institute, said that English speakers have historically tried to blend into mainstream Israeli society rather than form their own distinct culture.

“There was always this kind of American immigrant zeal to be truly Israeli and out-Hebraicize the Hebraists,” Troy said. “There’s a lot of American immigrant feeling of inadequacy in our Hebrew, so you try to overcompensate by not acknowledging that you’re a separate community.

Gimpel said that Americans are eager to integrate into Israeli society because they came to Israel by choice. “If Americans were interested in themselves they would have stayed in America,” he said. “They want what’s best for Israel.”

London noted that according to AACI, English speakers in Israel (300,000 native English speakers) are just a small fraction of the population — estimates are between 3 and 4 percent — but they tend to be more financially successful than the average citizen.

Many first-time voters interviewed this week told Haaretz that they were excited to make their voices heard but felt uncertain: not only about whom to vote for, but also about where to vote and what happens after the votes are counted 

Paul Shindman of the Israel Project, a nonpartisan educational institute, attempted to demystify the process in a recent presentation to new immigrants in Jerusalem that was sponsored by Nefesh B’Nefesh.

"The multi-party system is not as complicated as it seems," Shindman told the crowd. “Thirty-eight parties registered but don’t worry, several of them have combined their lists, so instead of 38 there are only 34,” he joked 
In an interview to Haaretz, Shindman noted that Anglos tend to be “engaged and involved in Israeli politics,” with several Anglo candidates appearing on major party lists. “I’ve always found that Anglos coming from countries where democracy is taken seriously bring that [attitude] with them,” he said.
One new immigrant from Washington, D.C., who asked not to be identified, said she intended to support the conservative Likud-Yisrael Beiteinu ticket, headed by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, despite her normally liberal views. I used to be really left-wing back in D.C., but after I came here I changed my mind,” said the woman, who lives in Tel Aviv. “I had never experienced a rocket falling in my city before,” she said.
Milton Rieback, a native South African who moved to Israel one and a half years ago and lives at Kibbutz Masada, however complained that he had a difficult time deciding which party to support because of the lack of campaign materials in English. “I think if my Hebrew was better I would probably be more in the loop,” he said.