Diverse Anglo Voices on Likud Central Committee Fail to Coalesce

Several Anglos speak with Haaretz, and what emerges is a potpourri of principled determination and calculated agendas.

A diverse blend of Anglos - from fresh, new faces to seasoned political veterans - has been injected into the ranks of the Likud Party Central Committee following last month's bitterly contested primary.

Several have spoken with Haaretz, and what emerges is a potpourri of principled determination and calculated agendas.

"Most people don't go into Israeli politics because they want to improve the garbage collection in their neighborhood," says native South African Rodney Sanders, a veteran of earlier Likud central committees who boasts three decades of political experience. "Most people have ambitions. They want to become Knesset members and cabinet ministers. They want to affect the way the country is run."

Up for grabs in the January 31 primary - in which Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu defeated his longtime challenger Moshe Feiglin of the Jewish Leadership faction for party leadership - were most of the 3,500 central committee seats and local positions in approximately 200 party branch councils across the country. Some Anglos were aligned with Netanyahu, others with Feiglin, some unaffiliated. Virtually all negotiated intricate alliances - both with friends and often with foes - in the form of ad hoc lists. It is a practice that has come to define Israeli political coalition-cobbling. "Otherwise you had no chance of getting in," says one highly placed Likud insider who asked not to be identified.

There are no precise figures confirming the number of Anglos elected to the central committee, according to several Likud officials. Estimates range from scores to as many as 100, says attorney and New York native Daniel Tauber, a newly elected central committee member from Jerusalem who heads the grassroots organization Likud Anglos. He maintains that "at least" 3,000 native English speakers are listed on the party's membership rolls.

According to Tauber, 28, Jerusalem politics is akin to the old "Chicago-style" politics characterized by legendary "backroom deals." He says he is "distressed" by the phenomenon of "vote contractors" leveraging party registration forms for personal power. In an open e-mail Tauber sent to his members last week, he invoked Anglos' "common standards of political decency, which all too often are neglected in Israeli politics."

Australian Leah Karp says her first-time election to the central committee is a mandate to bring the Likud government closer to its platform.

"I identified with Likud, and its charter articulated my views of Israel," says Karp, 37, a resident of Beit Shemesh who supports Feiglin's platform of "Jewish values and ideals," as noted on the faction's web site. "However, I was dismayed to find the leadership of Likud acting in a way which directly contradicted its own party goals."

Jonathan Leci of Jerusalem, an immigrant from London in his late 30s, says "it's time to turn the party around." He broke with the party in 2005 over his opposition to Likud's support of Israel's disengagement from the Gaza Strip. But he is again disenchanted, calling Netanyahu's 2009 Bar-Ilan University address supporting a two-state solution "a clear violation of the party platform."

"Bibi [Netanyahu] has to realize that if he wants to make a modification, then he must first turn to the party's central committee," insists Leci, who predicts that MKs will begin to feel the pressure of the reinvigorated body in the wake of the primary. "He can't promise to do one thing and then do another. If he did this as a corporate CEO, he'd be fired immediately."

As a new central committee member, Leci also plans to address a number of issues he says pose particular challenges for Anglos: professional retraining and certification hurdles for immigrants arriving with vocational degrees; and what he calls "payment inequity for Anglos in the workplace."

Leci, a father of three, says he will propose a "tax credit for working fathers" and work toward reversing the state's employment tax on nonprofits.

Gidon Ariel, a 48-year-old immigrant from Queens, New York, is an incumbent central committee member. The ad hoc list he heads has increased from two members to seven since the last election a decade ago.

Ariel's perspective appears strictly Machiavellian.

"Now I can stop being a piece and start being a player," says Ariel, who expects to hold a senior position in the Likud branch in Ma'aleh Adumim. "When there are only one or two of you, then someone else is moving you around the board. But when you control seven or nine pieces, then the MKs start looking at you." Ariel's fellow Queens native, Mordechai Taub, was re-elected to the central committee after a decade of working "behind the scenes," and says he feels he is now back where he belongs. "It's my natural habitat," says Taub, 51, who immigrated in 1988. "I have always been involved."

Taub, who says he has opposed Feiglin for years, worked previously as a fundraiser for the Republican National Committee and served on the Washington staff of former Republican New York Senator Alphonse M. D'Amato, he says.

"I personally do not feel I am an Anglo within the Likud," says Taub, who predicts that English-speaking citizens will never quite coalesce as a group as long as Israeli politics is carved up by ideology first and geography second. "I'm an activist for particular political values. I don't have a particular interest in running for or against an Anglo, and in fact, when I lived in the U.S., I never voted for or against anyone because they were Jewish."

In veiled references to the state's distribution of wealth and major industries among a handful of Israel's elites, Taub says it is "heroic" how some Likud MKs have attempted to make Israel "more democratic" and to "level the playing field when citizens interact with government."

"All citizens must be equal in society, or else our best and brightest will continue to go to Ben-Gurion Airport and seek their future in New York, Los Angeles and London," he says.

For Sanders, the founding secretary general of World Likud, the failure of Anglos to unify as a formidable political entity or to produce a breakthrough candidate comes as no surprise.

"Every election season, Anglos get involved in all the parties, but very few of them make it into the Knesset, and very few of them make it into government," says Sanders. "It's not that they lack ability. But the bulk of whom we call 'Anglos' did not go through high school in Israel or the army - two of the formative experiences in the State of Israel. It's what most Anglos lack, and they're coming in as outsiders."