In Israeli Elections, Anglo Candidates Face Uphill Battle

Over a dozen candidates with ties to English-speaking countries emerged during this abridged election season, yet none landed near the top of the major parties' tickets.

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As the Thursday night deadline approached for parties to submit their final lists of candidates for the 19th Knesset, no new Anglos appeared to have a lock on a seat.

Over a dozen candidates with ties to English-speaking countries emerged during this abridged election season, yet none landed near the top of the major parties' tickets, the result of shifting political alignments and cultural barriers, according to election watchers.

Daniel Hershtal, who immigrated to Israel from Canada in 2002, earned the 28th slot on Yisrael Beiteinu's list but dropped out of the top 40 of the joint Likud Beiteinu list, as did Likud candidates Daniel Tauber, a 29-year-old attorney from Staten Island, New York, and the Israeli-born Orly Benny Davis, a former candidate for U.S. Senate in South Carolina. The Likud Beiteinu slate is expected to win 37 seats, according to the Channel 10-Dialog poll released on Wednesday night.

For Labor, which is projected by the same poll to claim 20 seats, both Chili Tropper (who was born in Israel to American parents ) and the reality television star Eitan Schwartz (who was born in New York City and came to Israel as a child) appeared to place too low, at 24 and 41 respectively.

Jeremy Gimpel, a 32-year-old native of Atlanta, Georgia, earned the ninth spot in the primary for the right-wing party Habayit Hayehudi but fell to number 14 when it merged with National Union. The joint slate is expected to take 11 seats..

The head of Habayit Hayehudi, Naftali Bennett, was born in Haifa to American parents but has been quoted as saying he does not consider himself Anglo.

Rabbi Dov Lipman, the 41-year-old Silver Spring, Maryland native and Beit Shemesh activist, took the 17th spot for Yesh Atid, the centrist party led by Yair Lapid that has seen its projected number of seats slip to seven.

Last week, Rabbi Ariel Konstantyn, the spiritual leader of the Tel Aviv International Synagogue and a native of New York, joined the Am Shalem slate and landed at number eight, though polls indicate that the new party formed by renegade former Shas MK Rabbi Chaim Amsellem will win three seats.

Meanwhile, there are a handful of Anglos who lead smaller parties that are not expected to gain enough votes to pass the electoral threshold or are flirting with it. These include Professor Alon Tal, the North Carolina native who was reelected as head of the Green Movement this week, and Daniel Goldstein, who hails from Long Island, New York, and who founded the economy-focused Calcala party earlier this year with his Israeli-born brother Benny.

Tal pushed through a resolution last night to run jointly with Tzipi Livni's Hatnuah party, which passed with a 70 percent majority. Tal will be number 13 on Hatnuah's list. If elected, the Green Movement will function as a "separate and independent party and Knesset faction," Tal said.

Baruch Marzel, a native of Boston, claimed the third spot on the ultra-rightist Otzma LeYisrael list, with Aryeh King (who holds American citizenship ) in fourth. It was not clear from recent polls whether the party would clear the threshold, although the latest Knesset Channel poll gave Otzma LeYisrael three seats.

The question of low Anglo placement on party lists is a lingering one. Indeed, political observers and academics have been parsing it for years.

Sam Lehman-Wilzig, deputy director of Bar-Ilan University's School of Communication, sees several cultural reasons why Anglos are disproportionately under-represented in the Knesset and in the highest levels of government.

In an interview, Lehman-Wilzig cited Anglos' lack of an Old Boys Network and the requisite connections to get ahead, as well as an aversion to an Israeli party system of "backroom wheeling" that is an "alien system" to the district representation practiced in their countries of origin.

And there's the issue of how Anglos come across to other Israelis, says Lehman-Wilzig.

"Anglos tend to be more reserved in their demeanor, and perhaps even straighter in their approach to doing things according to the book," he said. "Israelis are socialized to cut corners, to doing things circuitously, and the Anglo approach is viewed by Israelis as naive and not 'real' enough."

Lehman-Wilzig maintains that Anglos generally "don't have the requisite elbows to make it through the political process to get to the top of the pile." In short, paradoxically, Anglos are not supported by Israelis because they are "too well-educated" and "too well-mannered," he said.

Danny Goldstein, of Calcala, said he saw his American background as an advantage. "We come with the American ideology, and the Israelis love it because it's a fresh way of looking at things," he said. On the other hand, he said, "Americans in Israel probably will not vote for us because they want people that are very right wing.”

There are two politicians with ties to English-speaking countries currently serving in the Knesset. Yaakov Litzman, the deputy minister of health, was born in a displaced persons camp in Germany in 1948 but spent his childhood in New York. He holds the top spot on the United Torah Judaism slate, which is expected to win six seats.

The future is not so clear for MK Yohanan Plesner. Plesner, who was born in London and earned a degree in political economics from the John F. Kennedy School of Government at Harvard University, holds the third spot on Kadima's list. If Kadima manages to take only two seats as projected, Plesner will be left out.

Daniel Goldstein, left, and his brother Benny Goldstein at the Knesset.Credit: Edi Israel