With 3 young kids, a business in its infancy, and a house in the middle of the mountains, it takes a lot to draw me into the city at night, especially when an event promises neither wine nor sushi.
But I was raised in an environment focused on individualized political efficacy and civic responsibility. To Midwesterners, it is both your privilege and your responsibility to vote, and it’s almost considered treasonous to refrain from educating yourself politically. I come from a family of union representatives (think Norma Rae) and was picketing at age 6. Therefore, “YOUR VOTE MATTERS” is tattooed inside my frontal lobe. So, even given the fact that I haven’t started on my mishloach manot, and I work from home which therefore means I am rarely required to don anything fancier than pajamas, and the event started at 6pm which meant that I had to abandon my husband during the critical dinner/bath/bed hour (thanks, Honey) I went to The Anglo Vote.
One tidbit of note is that the organizers of this event completely alienated the blogging community. Considering I work in the world of digital marketing, I am reasonably well versed in the strategy of recruiting bloggers to help spread the word (and create buzz) surrounding an event. For that reason, I am, and my blogging counterparts are, often invited to events in the hopes that we will say something positive (or anything at all) which will generate interest and therefore publicity. Toward that end, the organizers offered free tickets to the event (valued at 35 NIS) to anybody who blogged about the event prior to attending it (what? Honestly?) for promotional purposes, and then submitted the blog to the organizers for their approval. Only then would they award the writer the $8 prize of entry. For future reference, any self respecting blogger cannot be purchased. If he can, for $8, you don’t want him.
To my shock and horror, there was almost nobody there under age 60. Was that because the younger generation (I love to call myself the “younger generation” at age 40. When do I have to quit that?) has already made up its mind about voting? Do they simply not care? Was the 35 NIS cover charge a significant deterrent for young professionals? Or, alternatively, was it the 35 NIS all you can eat dairy buffet what drew the older crowd? (Was the Old Country Buffet mentality at work?)
I have to admit, it felt a bit freaky upon arrival. I mean, a political event at the visually overstimulating (my eyes, the burn) Cinema City forces voters to look at life size models of Brad Pitt and try to think “Lieberman or Bennett?” and pass by the giant Batman and the bloated-looking Smurfs and attempt to focus on the debate between Benny Begin and Hilik Bar. It simply felt incongruous and surreal.
It should be noted that I was not exactly the target audience for this event. Although I am officially considered an Anglo in Israel (I know the word “anglo” is an offensive term in the States but here it’s completely innocuous, referring to anyone who relocated to Israel from an English speaking country.) On the whole, the Anglos here (especially those who live in Jerusalem) are right wing and religious. While the moderator seemed to insist that the Anglos don’t vote in a “block” (like the Russians or the Sephardim) and we are therefore difficult to court in election propaganda, I believe that it’s not overly debatable that by and large, at least the American population here leans distinctly to the right. Ultimately, even though my upbringing was right wing (in Israeli politics, not American) I am decidedly secular, so I was not the average person in this audience.
It should also be noted that while I studied politics in college (with my eye toward law school, but then the dot-com boom got sexy and the economic pull to the workforce was too great) my background in both Israeli history and politics is admittedly negligible.
Additional Things of Note:
1: There were almost zero female presenters. How disappointing (and alienating!) Only two women spoke. The first was a head representative of the OU and her 90 second address was largely administrative. The second was Ruthie Bloom, and she spoke (intelligently) as a writer and media representative, rather than as a candidate or party representative.
2: I have never seen so many suit jackets in Israel in one place. Not even at a wedding.
The panel only included 5 parties:
- Yisroel Betenu (represented by Ashley Perry)
- Yesh Atid (rep Dov Lipman)
- Labor (rep Hilik Bar)
- Likud (rep Benny Begin)
- Bayit Yehudi (rep Uri Bank)
I can’t tell you how intensely disappointed I was that Moshe Kahlon’s new party (Kulanu) didn’t bother to attend. Yes, I’m certain they were invited (I asked) but their failure to appear says to me, loudly and clearly, that I don’t matter. My vote is not important enough for them to send someone to talk through their platform. It was important enough to me to get in the car, at night, leave my family, spend money on gas and admission, and arrive home after 10pm… but it’s not important enough for them to do the same. Shame on you, Kulanu.
Although the event began at 6pm, political candidates didn’t begin speaking until 8:30pm. Why? First, because the dairy buffet took more than an hour. While I appreciate mini bagels as much as the next person (who doesn’t love bris food?) and it was laid out beautifully, I came to hear politicians. After the buffet, the presentations started late. I’m a yekke and don’t take kindly to tardiness. Once we got underway, we were subject to the comments of a moderator, many thanks-you’s, plugs for each of the events’ sponsors, and an entire panel of the Jewish press. Then, we were shown a 10 minute (amusing yet entirely uninformative) movie about the voting opinion of “the man on the street.” The conclusion was that people are still widely undecided, except for the Ale Yarok supporters, who seemed unequivocally confident about their choice.
Here’s the long and short of it:
Yisroel Betenu presented itself well. They were smart, since although Lieberman is widely known as being entirely secular, they chose for this crowd a representative who looks dati leumi, wore a kippah, and “casually mentioned” that with 4 kids and two working parents, it’s hard to make ends meet. From a marketing perspective, Ashley Perry was the best possible representative to send to this audience. Ashley put forth that that YB is the only party that was started by a new immigrant for new immigrants. He pitched a strong mindset on defense (summary: the next time there is a rocket, we return fire immediately and forcefully) and talked about economic reform (summary: we must reverse the historical trend in Israel in which those who contribute the most benefit the least.) He spoke about receiving benefits only if you work, pay taxes and serve in the army or national service. Ashley presented as level-headed, even tempered and dedicated.
Yesh Atid hosted the best speaker on the panel – Dov Lipman. He was charismatic and while he seemed quite religious (I had a decent view from the 4th row, and his kippah seemed black to me) his points about mainstreaming the Charedim resonated with me. Here’s where he lost me, though: Dov stressed diplomacy as a defense strategy. While he was passionate about bringing secular education into the Charedi school system (fabulous!) and training, supporting and encouraging them to work (also great!) and helping young couples to afford housing by buildilng 50,000 new units this year – the highest in Israeli history (rockin!) the man did not present what I consider to be a tough stance on security. He’s a talker, not a fighter.
Labor was at a distinct disadvantage on this panel. First, the representative they chose to send, Hilik Bar, was the only non-native English speaker on the panel. Does Labor really have absolutely no English speakers they could have sent? Hilik’s English was pretty good, to be fair, but not on par with the other presenters. Secondly, since the audience leans to the right, he came in as the underdog. To his credit, he called his party initiators, not blamers. He stressed the requirement to avoid a victimized/blameful mentality (summary: let’s make a better world rather than wasting time making excuses or pointing fingers.) Although he very clearly split the Palestinian world into two groups (those who want to live here with us, and those who want to live here instead of us) which I both appreciated and identified with, his presentation was too wishy washy and not impactful enough for me to classify it as “tachlis.”
Likud got more “airtime” than any other party, simply because the moderator didn’t have the heart (or audacity?) to cut off Benny Begin when the time limit was up. Benny, although an eloquent speaker, lost the crowd for two reasons. First, he was too long-winded (I don’t think the moderator was doing him any favors by letting him meander verbally.) Second, he came across as overly intellectual. Theoretical. His one excellent nugget was this (summary: some political decisions are reversible. Unfortunately, decisions like the Oslo agreements and the Disengagement are irreversible. It’s our mission to disallow any more of those irreversible mistakes. We are a very small country in a very bad neighborhood and cannot afford them.)
Bayit Yehudi was clearly the front-runner with this crowd. But if I had ever considered voting for Bennett (yes, the thought crossed my mind because I initially appreciated his stance on security, but then shook my head back into reality when a member of his party announced his proud homophobia) that time is now over. Uri Bank came across like a bible thumping TV evangelist. I didn’t appreciate his unprofessional, unbecoming remarks about our current Prime Minister (summary: we need a BiBisitter for BiBi, and my party performs that role well) and whined that Netanyahu doesn’t want him in the government. He sounded like a six-year-old after losing a soccer match. He called Yair Lapid foolish and while I respect that there is an array of opinions, he was the only representative to degrade himself and his party by name calling. He stressed the requirement of Torah values dictating law, and handed out literature that highlighted his support for the Rabbinate’s continual monopoly on marriage jurisdiction.
Ultimately, I’m still undecided, but at least I’m no longer entirely uneducated. Dad, you can relax.