Text size

Under the slogan "Now we have a voice," Yisrael b'Aliyah yesterday hit the English-speaking campaign trail.

To mark the occasion, which is a turning point for an immigrant party that has, until now, been associated almost exclusively with Russian-speaking immigrants from the former Soviet Union, Avital Sharansky - wife of party chairman and former Prisoner of Zion Natan Sharansky - broke with her self-imposed political hermitage, and delivered a speech to the hundreds of people who had turned up at the Renaissance Hotel in Jerusalem.

And by talking at length about her long campaign to have the United States help free her husband from his Soviet prison, Sharansky managed to connect the fates of the two communities.

Last night's event was the closest thing Israel has seen to a Democratic or Republic Party convention. There were hundreds of blue and white balloons, lapel badges with Natan Sharansky's portrait, under which was written, "I'm with Natan," sixties music and American folk songs. Sharansky's entrance to the hall was greeted with a standing ovation.

Most of those participating last night were wearing skullcaps, in keeping with the overall character of the recent immigrants from English-speaking countries. The stage was bedecked with the flags of the United States, Britain, Canada, South Africa and Australia - all those communities whose votes Yisrael b'Aliyah now wants to woo away from the National Religious Party and the Likud.

Unlike the rest of this election campaign, the main subject on last night's agenda was the double income tax burden that Western immigrants are forced to pay. Indeed, several activists wore T-shirts with a triple message: Vote Yes for Aliyah; No for Yerida; Yes for tax reform now. Yisrael b'Aliyah has therefore decided that the forthcoming tax reform will be the main issue with which it tries to win the English-speaking vote.

Old-time politics

Eran Weil, who immigrated to Israel a decade ago, is a former AIPAC lobbyist from Washington DC. Over the past two months, he has become Yisrael b'Aliyah's leading English-speaking activist and campaigner in the Ra'anana area.

"As far as I am concerned," he said, "this party is the closest thing we have to direct representation. Anyone who votes Labor or Likud does not know who he will get. We know that we have got a representative, we've got his phone number and we're in direct contact with him. This is old-time politics that can only be found in this party."

Over the past two years, several English-speaking branches of Yisrael b'Aliyah have been set up across the country, and the party hopes that English-speakers will help it earn its fifth Knesset seat.

More Jewish, more democratic

In his speech, Sharansky emphasized that there need not be a contradiction between a more democratic Israel and a more Jewish Israel. He also announced the party's new English slogan for the forthcoming elections: No taxation without representation.

"The connection between the Russian [immigrant] party and the Anglo-Saxon immigrant community is, in fact, the fruition of the party's vision - to be the voice of all immigrants, and to help them to take an integral role in the running of state and social matters," Sharansky told the activists.

"Until now, no-one has represented you in the Knesset. Today, we are offering ourselves as your voice."

"If we can get a quarter of the votes of the Anglo-Saxon community in Israel, which numbers tens of thousands," said Kashdan, the American-born immigrants who is fifth on the Yisrael b'Aliyahu Knesset list, "we would consider that a huge success."