Political Parties Are Translating English 'Likes' Into Israeli Ballots

Most parties use the Internet to woo English-speaking voters, but Labor's page is 404.

The major political parties are reaching out to English-speaking voters through the Internet and social media, hoping to translate "likes" into votes at the polls on January 22.

The sole exception is the Labor Party, which so far has no English section on its website and no English-language Facebook presence. Yisrael Beiteinu's English-language Facebook page garnered nearly 4,500 likes as of Thursday; the party also runs pages in Russian, Arabic, French and Spanish. Yesh Atid's English page has 644 likes. (Likud Anglos, which has 516 likes, is no longer affiliated with the campaign, said executive director Daniel Tauber.)

Naftali Bennett, chairman of Habayit Hayehudi and the son of American immigrants, maintains a personal Facebook page in English with over 3,350 likes. Rabbi Dov Lipman, who holds the 14th spot on Yair Lapid's Yesh Atid list, posts in English and Hebrew on his personal page, which has over 2,100 likes.

"I interact with people throughout the day using my Blackberry," Maryland native Lipman told Haaretz, noting that he has engaged in heated discussions about his party's positions on national service and the peace process. "I think it's a good part of the electoral process."

The most active Twitter account in English among the major parties belongs to Yisrael Beiteinu and has 703 followers. (Twitter is much less popular in Israel than Facebook, which has nearly 4 million users.) Yesh Atid leader Yair Lapid is an avid Instagram user, having posted over 160 photos from the campaign trail.

Many parties also have some English-language content on their websites. Likud, Yisrael Beiteinu, Yesh Atid, Am Shalem and Otzma Le'yisrael have full English sites including candidate biographies and platforms. The main Hebrew sites of Habayit Hayehudi, Meretz and Hadash feature individual pages in English. And Tzipi Livni's Hatnuah added an English page to its site earlier this week, said Susann Codish, head of the party's English-speaking department.

But Labor isn't the only party to bypass English. Neither Shas nor Kadima have an English presence on the web.

Other parties see things differently. Yisrael Beiteinu has maintained a detailed English site for seven years. The party's deputy director of communications, London native Ashley Perry, suggests that this indicates a serious attitude. "Some of the other English-language websites are basically a few lines about some vague promises, but that's not really engagement, that's just superficial electioneering," said Perry.

Normal Israelis, not a bloc

YouTube hasn't escaped the attention of Habayit Hayehudi, which last month posted a video (viewed more than 4,000 times) featuring Bennett and Atlanta native Jeremy Gimpel, No. 14 on the party list.

Habayit Hayehudi has a staff of four paid employees who specifically target English-speaking voters in person and online, says Jeremy Saltan, the party's English-speaking campaign manager. Still, Saltan says, English-speaking voters don't want to be seen as one bloc, "but as normal, thinking Israelis."

But not all English-language campaigning has gone cyber. Lipman has attended dozens of Yesh Atid parlor meetings and debates, and has an event every night until election day.

On Wednesday evening MK Nitzan Horowitz and other representatives of Meretz met about 50 Anglos at Jerusalem's Beit Agron. "I think it's important to meet [face-to-face] because there are several hundred thousand English-speakers in Israel," said Laura Wharton, a native of New Jersey and number 11 on Meretz's ticket.

AFP
Bloomberg