The debate moderator asked the candidates what their parties would do to prevent a third intifada, an increasingly common concern in the Israeli election campaign. In his answer, Jeremy Gimpel drew from his upbringing – in Atlanta, Ga.
“I’m from America,” Gimpel said in English. “We don’t talk to terrorists. In America, we eliminate terrorists.”
Soon after Gimpel had finished, New Jersey native Alon Tal shot back.
“There are graves in the Wild West that say, ‘Here lies John Smith, who exercised all his rights,’ ” Tal said, also in English. “Do we want to find a pragmatic solution or do we want to be self-righteous?”
Tal is a candidate for the center-left Hatnua party, while Gimpel is running with the hard-right Jewish Home faction. They are two of a handful of American-born candidates at the forefront of an intensive push to win over English-speaking voters in advance of Israel’s Jan. 22 elections.
While English-language campaigns aren’t new in Israel, candidates and observers say this year’s effort feels larger and more sophisticated than those of elections past.
American-born candidates such as Gimpel, Tal and Dov Lipman of the centrist Yesh Atid are hosting parlor meetings in American homes. Party leaders like Yesh Atid’s Yair Lapid and Jewish Home’s Naftali Bennett have addressed large crowds in English. The Jerusalem Post has sponsored four English debates in Anglo-heavy population centers. Some parties have English bumper stickers and fliers.
“The English-speaking community is finally stepping up to the plate, as we become more comfortable and understanding of the system,” said David London, executive director of the Association of Americans and Canadians in Israel, which co-sponsored The Jerusalem Post debates.
London noted that like American Jews, Anglo Israelis are just a small fraction of the population – estimates are between 3 and 4 percent – but they tend to be more financially successful than the average Israeli. Some 300,000 native English speakers live in Israel, the majority of them American, according to AACI.