This election cycle, several parties have actively tried to court English-speaking voters by suggesting that they are most in line with bona fide “Anglo” values and traditions. Several parties are posting, or considering posting, Anglo candidates in realistic or quasi-realistic slots on their Knesset lists in the hopes that it will attract Anglo voters.
As a veteran of five Israeli election cycles, I implore my fellow Anglos: don’t be fooled. Vote for the party whose platform you think will be best for the future of the State of Israel, not for the party that has the best chance of getting a fellow English-speaking oleh elected or even the party that most resembles the one you voted for in the Old Country.
Yet, the Anglo voter may wonder: Wouldn’t it be great if we could get an Anglo into the 19th Knesset? How great would it be if one day Israel could have an Anglo prime minister or president? Or even a senior portfolio like deputy prime minister, defense minister, or foreign minister? Maybe even only a mid-level post like minister of education? Heck, we’d settle for a deputy ministership!
Here’s the good news: Anglos have already held EVERY SINGLE ONE of those positions. The outgoing 18th Knesset has an Anglo serving as deputy minister of health: UTJ’s Yaakov Litzman, who was born in a European DP camp but grew up in the United States.
“Ah,” the skeptical and perhaps somewhat bigoted ‘mainstream’ Anglo voter objects, “Litzman is Haredi, and Haredim hardly represent the typical Anglo voter.”
Well, then take your pick. With the exception of ethnically-aligned (Arab, Sephardic and Russian) parties and some of the here-today-gone-tomorrow parties (The Third Way, Tommy Lapid’s Shimui, the Center Party, and the like), Anglo Knesset Members have represented every major political stream and have served in almost every single Knesset.
Starting with the Left, American Marcia Freedman served in the Ratz Party (forerunner of today’s Meretz) in the mid-1970s, advocating for women’s rights, gay rights, and peace with the Palestinians before any of those issues became fashionable.
Less than a decade later, Rabbi Meir Kahane, whose far-right platform advocated forcible transfer of non-Jews out of the territory of the Biblical Land of Israel, was elected to the 11th Knesset. Current National Union MK Michael Ben-Ari claims to be a disciple of Kahane.
Among the religious parties, Litzman has, as noted, served UTJ since the 15th Knesset. In the National-Religious Party (today’s Bayit Yehudi/ Jewish Home party), European-born but American raised and educated Rabbi Shlomo-Yisrael Ben-Meir served in the Knesset from 1952 until his death in 1971, when he was replaced by his son, American-born Yehuda Ben-Meir, who served until 1984. Between them, the Ben-Meirs served as deputy minister of foreign affairs, deputy Knesset speaker, deputy minister of health, deputy minister of welfare, and deputy minister of internal affairs.
Kadima will apparently be short-lived, as it has been around less than a decade and is not expected to make it into the next Knesset. Nevertheless, Kadima MK Yohanan Plesner, most famous for heading the bipartisan committee that recommended steps to draft Haredim, was born in England and raised in Jerusalem.
Regarding the Likud, some might consider Prime Minister Netanyahu to be an Anglo, since he lived in the US during his teenage years and went to college there. That is not enough for this list. To make this list, one had to have been born in an English-speaking country or made aliyah from an English-speaking country having spent formative years there, and never having lived in Israel. So Bibi is out.
But Moshe Arens is in.
Arens was born in Kovno but moved to the United States around bar mitzva age, and made aliyah soon after Israel declared independence. In addition to various public and official roles, including Ambassador to the United States, he served six terms in the Knesset, including a stint as Foreign Minister and three as Defense Minister.
In the very first Knesset, South African Shmuel Katz served as an MK in Menahem Begin’s Herut Party, forerunner of today’s Likud.
It was in the Labor Party – and its forerunners Mapai, Alignment etc. – that Anglos had the most influence, in terms of both number and prominence. Two British women, Tamar Eshel and Zina Herman, served in the 7th (Herman), 9th, and 10th (Eshel) Knessets. Montreal-born Dov Yosef was a Mapai MK in the first three Knessets, serving various stints as minister of rationing and supply, agriculture, transportation, justice, development, health, and industry and trade.
This weekend will mark ten years since the death of Abba Eban. Though he is most famous for stating Israel’s case to the world as Israel’s first Ambassador to the United States and the United Nations, he also served eight different terms as a Knesset member and was foreign minister, education minister, and deputy prime minister.
Haim Herzog was born in Belfast, Ireland (his father was Chief Rabbi of Ireland, then of Palestine, then of Israel). He served less than one Knesset term, but that’s because he was elected president in 1983.
Then, of course, there was Golda Meir, who grew up in Milwaukee before going on to become a “Founding Mother” of the State of Israel and its fourth Prime Minister. Along the way, she served as ambassador to the USSR, labor minister, and foreign minister.
This list is limited to Knesset members. Otherwise it would include former Supreme Court President Shimon Agranat (of Louisville, Kentucky) and current Bank of Israel Governor Stanley Fischer (no relation, though I’m sure people ask him all the time).
The obvious conclusion is that there is no “Anglo” party: Anglos vote for every party and every party has had Anglos rise to positions of prominence without recourse to tokenism or protected slots on party lists. While it is true that other immigrant groups have formed political parties and lobbies, Anglos, for a variety of reasons, have not done so and do not vote en bloc in Israeli parliamentary elections.
I would certainly be proud if the next Knesset had more olim from English-speaking countries. We certainly have what to contribute here. However, I will vote for a party on the strength of its platform and record, whether or not its list contains any native English speakers.