Israeli Candidates Vie for the (Gasp!) American Vote

Explicit Appeals to Ex-Pats of All Stripes as Election Nears

Vote For Me: Labor’s Shelley Yachimovich campaigns in Israel’s election. Candidates from both sides of the political spectrum are making explicit appeals for the votes of American expatriates.
getty images
Vote For Me: Labor’s Shelley Yachimovich campaigns in Israel’s election. Candidates from both sides of the political spectrum are making explicit appeals for the votes of American expatriates.

By JTA

Published January 08, 2013.
  • Print
  • Share Share
  • Multi Page

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.

Gimpel, Tal and Lipman hope to replicate American economic success in the political arena. Israel has not had an American-born member of Knesset since 1984, when the ultranationalist Rabbi Meir Kahane was elected. His party, Kach, was later deemed racist and disqualified from running in the 1988 elections.

The polls show Gimpel 14th on the Jewish Home list and Tal 13th on Hatnua – on the verge of winning Knesset seats. Lipman, 17th on the Yesh Atid slate, is a more unlikely victor.

“My mother tongue is English, so I wanted to empower the English-speaking immigrant community,” said Gimpel, 33, who moved to Israel when he was 11. “They have someone they can turn to.”

While the three candidates come from different parts of the political spectrum, they agree that most English speakers care about strengthening the state’s democratic values and reforming its fragmented political system, in which as many as 15 parties may enter the next Knesset.

Tal and Lipman both noted that Americans, who come from a tradition of religious pluralism, also emphasize issues of religion and state and tend to oppose government support for haredi Orthodox institutions.

“In America, haredim have education, there are opportunities and they work,” said Lipman, who himself is haredi Orthodox. ”That issue bothers us more because we know there’s no contradiction” between working and being haredi.

All three candidates agreed that a common stereotype Israelis have of American voters – that they care only about supporting settlements – is false.

“Part of the Anglo immigrants are right-wing religious, but a large percentage are not,” Tal said.

Lipman added that English speakers are “very much in line with mainstream Israel” and, like a majority of Israelis, are prioritizing economic issues in this election.

Many Israelis, and especially politicians, speak fluent or proficient English, but Lipman said English-speaking voters can identify particularly well with native English-speaking candidates.

“Your English can be as good as you want it to be, but if you’re coming from America you can connect with immigrants in a much better way,” he said. “My passion to make Israel great is driven by us being relatively new.”

American candidates also come with American quirks. Tal plays fiddle in a bluegrass band. Jewish Home Chairman Naftali Bennett, whose parents are American, loves the film “The Shawshank Redemption.”

Although Anglo political influence is on the rise, it’s unclear if English speakers will follow in the footsteps of Russian immigrants, who formed their own powerful Knesset party, Yisrael Beiteinu. Gil Troy, a McGill University history professor who is now a fellow at Jerusalem’s Shalom Hartman Institute, said that English speakers have historically tried to blend into mainstream Israeli society rather than form their own distinct culture.

“There was always this kind of American immigrant zeal to be truly Israeli and out-Hebraicize the Hebraists,” Troy said. “There’s a lot of American immigrant feeling of inadequacy in our Hebrew, so you try to overcompensate by not acknowledging that you’re a separate community.”

Gimpel said that Americans are eager to integrate into Israeli society because they came to Israel by choice, unlike Russian or Ethiopian Israelis, who were fleeing oppression.

“If Americans were interested in themselves they would have stayed in America,” he said. “They want what’s best for Israel.”


The Jewish Daily Forward welcomes reader comments in order to promote thoughtful discussion on issues of importance to the Jewish community. In the interest of maintaining a civil forum, The Jewish Daily Forwardrequires that all commenters be appropriately respectful toward our writers, other commenters and the subjects of the articles. Vigorous debate and reasoned critique are welcome; name-calling and personal invective are not. While we generally do not seek to edit or actively moderate comments, our spam filter prevents most links and certain key words from being posted and The Jewish Daily Forward reserves the right to remove comments for any reason.





Find us on Facebook!
  • "If you want my advice: more Palestinians, more checkpoints, just more reality." What do you think?
  • Happy birthday Barbra Streisand! Our favorite Funny Girl turns 72 today.
  • Clueless parenting advice from the star of "Clueless."
  • Why won't the city give an answer?
  • BREAKING NEWS: Israel has officially suspended peace talks with the Palestinians.
  • Can you guess what the most boring job in the army is?
  • What the foolish rabbi of Chelm teaches us about Israel and the Palestinian unity deal:
  • Mazel tov to Idina Menzel on making Variety "Power of Women" cover! http://jd.fo/f3Mms
  • "How much should I expect him and/or ask him to participate? Is it enough to have one parent reciting the prayers and observing the holidays?" What do you think?
  • New York and Montreal have been at odds for far too long. Stop the bagel wars, sign our bagel peace treaty!
  • Really, can you blame them?
  • “How I Stopped Hating Women of the Wall and Started Talking to My Mother.” Will you see it?
  • Taglit-Birthright Israel is redefining who they consider "Jewish" after a 17% drop in registration from 2011-2013. Is the "propaganda tag" keeping young people away?
  • Happy birthday William Shakespeare! Turns out, the Bard knew quite a bit about Jews.
  • Would you get to know racists on a first-name basis if you thought it might help you prevent them from going on rampages, like the recent shooting in Kansas City?
  • from-cache

Would you like to receive updates about new stories?




















We will not share your e-mail address or other personal information.

Already subscribed? Manage your subscription.