While immigrants from the former Soviet Union are often viewed as a valuable political bloc and targeted directly by election campaigns in Israel, olim from English-speaking countries are generally regarded as much more politically diverse and so receive significantly less attention.
Due to the online nature of most campaigning in this particular election, though, it has become easier – and cheaper – to reach out to the Anglo community through Zoom, Facebook Live and other virtual platforms. As a result, Israel’s political parties have ramped up voter outreach efforts, holding a variety of English-language meetings online and sharing English campaign materials on social media.
Why is Netanyahu still standing after all this time? LISTEN to Haaretz's Election Overdose podcast
According to Hebrew University demographer Prof. Sergio DellaPergola, data collected by the Central Bureau of Statistics shows that, as of 2019, around 275,000 people in Israel were either born in an English-speaking country or were the offspring of an immigrant from the United States, Britain, South Africa, Canada or Oceania – a not-insignificant number in a country where some 4.6 million people voted in the previous election of March 2020.
On Sunday evening, Yesh Atid Chairman Yair Lapid addressed members of the Tel Aviv International Salon in English virtually. This came less than a week after a similar appearance by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, and a day after Aliyah and Integration Minister Pnina Tamano-Shata held a similar event on Zoom.
Both Netanyahu and Tamano-Shata’s party leader, Benny Gantz (Kahol Lavan), have also spoken with the local English media.
“There’s been a lot more outreach to Anglos than there has been in the past,” said Rabbi Dov Lipman, a former Yesh Atid lawmaker originally from Maryland.
“There have been many panels and interviews geared to English-speaking voters, and many campaigns have produced materials in English. I believe that more can be done, but I’m happy to see the progress,” he said. “There are more organizations running events; Zoom makes this easier because it costs nothing and it’s usually hard to get people to come out.”
- Latest Polls: Israel Election 2021
- Israel election countdown: a special briefing
- From voting to protests, how Israeli expats will try to influence Tuesday's election
Party representatives were quick to play up their outreach to English-speaking voters when speaking to Haaretz for this article.
“Our campaign has made significant investments in making sure our message is able to reach English-speaking voters,” said Michal Slawny Cababia, head of Yesh Atid’s English speakers branch. “We’re putting out original content in English on a daily basis on social media, and we’ve held more Zoom town halls in English than any other party,” she added.
Yesh Atid currently has some 16,000 followers on its English-language Facebook page.
Jason Pearlman, a former spokesman for President Reuven Rivlin and now running English-language outreach for Gideon Sa’ar’s New Hope, said his party has strived to ensure that as much campaign material as possible is available in English, and that they’ve held “dozens” of English-language meetings, both in-person and virtually.
Alon Tal, a Kahol Lavan candidate originally from North Carolina, said his party has “a database with a couple of thousand people who are English speakers, and we’re following up on an individual level.”
For parties such as his, which is hovering around the electoral threshold of 3.25 percent and is in danger of not making it into the next Knesset, every vote will count in next week’s election.
Kahol Lavan is also holding weekly events in English and reaching out through social media, Tal said.
Illinois native Jeremy Saltan said his Yamina party has held “a dozen English events so far,” including several with chairman Naftali Bennett, whose parents made aliyah from San Francisco.
“Naftali has also done many foreign media interviews on television, as well as interviews to Anglo publications here in Israel,” said Saltan, who is number 16 on Yamina’s slate. “We produced some English campaign ads as well, which have run on TV.
“We’ve a whole English campaign – that includes manpower, paid and volunteers, and resources,” he added. “We’ve seen activity from New Hope and Yesh Atid, and a little from Likud. The other parties have not really done much this cycle.”
Avi Hyman, a British publicist running Likud’s English campaign, said his party has “led a robust Anglo campaign, with multiple online and in-person meetings in strict accordance with Health Ministry regulations.”
He added that Likud had released both translated and original content geared specifically to the Anglo community. “The prime minister gave multiple English-language interviews. We held an extremely successful online town hall meeting with the TLV International Salon, which attracted over 50,000 viewers on multiple platforms,” he said.
Hyman also noted that Likud’s campaign manager, Aaron Klein – a former journalist for the far-right Breitbart news site – is American.
But while Israeli politicians frequently employ U.S. political advisers, this has not always translated into increased emphasis on English-speaking voters.
“The only material I’ve received from parties to date has been unsolicited SMS spam in Hebrew and Russian,” said Daniel Rosehill, an Irish immigrant living in Jerusalem.
“It’s a pity that third parties and media organizations have to step in to fill an information gap that could be easily filled if parties put more effort into communicating their manifestos to English voters,” he said.
David Fine, whose Anglo Vision organization pushes for increased Anglo participation in politics, noted that there’s “been a marked improvement in outreach to the English-speaking community in Israel during these elections – partly because so much is taking place online.
“However,” he continued, “while many parties are vying for our votes, very few really take the Anglo community seriously – as is evidenced by a lack of any candidate from our community in a realistic position” to be elected to the 24th Knesset.
“It’s time Anglos put our numerical importance, through the hundreds of thousands of English-speaking Israelis, to party leaders so we can start getting issues of importance to us on the political agenda, and someone who can serve our interests in the Knesset.”
In a recent blog post, Fine listed some of those interests as making aliyah a national priority, career training, absorption counseling and having a certain number of Sundays off throughout the year.
LiAmi Lawrence, founder of the Keep Olim in Israel movement, said that while most parties “have a perfunctory English-speaker section,” their efforts are generally “a joke.”
“A few parties really got it together with English speakers, but I don’t think any of the parties see olim as a bloc,” Lawrence said.
His organization was set to hold a virtual town hall in English with representatives of multiple parties on Tuesday evening,
According to Prof. Gideon Rahat, senior fellow at the Israel Democracy Institute’s Political Reform Program, most electoral behavior is driven by demographic forces that greatly eclipse the importance of the so-called Anglo vote.
“This is clearly not a homogenous group,” he explained. “You can find Anglos everywhere” holding political views “from the extreme right to the left,” and most parties are likely making the “rational calculation” that English speakers are not worth targeting as a bloc.
From Rahat’s perspective, Anglos should see this as a compliment. “If nobody’s making an attempt to address Anglo-Saxons as a group, maybe it’s because they’re so successful and integrated into Israeli society and can be found everywhere on the political rainbow,” he said. “This is a good sign for the community: They see you as intelligent people who decide for yourselves, and there’s no point wasting money on you.”