Since the party lists came out last week, there has been a lot of talk from members of the Anglo-Israeli community about the lack of Anglo representation in realistic spots on the lists. Other than Jeremy Saltan, who is number 16 on the Yamina list, any other Anglos are much lower down and not expected to make it into Knesset. While many are calling for parties to ensure that there is larger Anglo representation on their lists in the future, or even going so far as to suggest putting together an Anglo party, I find the issue and potential solutions to it to be far more complex and nuanced.
I made aliyah with my family when I was 13 years old. My truly formative years were spent living in Israel. I went to high school here, did National Service, went to college – all in Israel. I’ve built my own family here as well. I’ve lived in Israel for more than half my life. I consider myself to be a true and passionate Zionist. And yet, when friends ask if I feel more Israeli or American, I get stuck. The truth is, I’m not really sure. In many ways, I feel far happier and more comfortable in Israel. I know my way around, I know how to work with the health and education systems, I know the language – I even prefer driving here! I would never dream of living in America at this point. I never lived there as an independent adult and I find the thought of trying it out to be intimidating. I prefer the mentality and lifestyle that I live in Israel to what I would likely have in America. Yet, regardless of all that, when I’m with Israelis I always feel somewhat on the outside. An other. Not quite a brand new immigrant. But not quite completely Israeli. It’s a category of it’s own – the teenage, stuck in the middle Olah. We are not among those that chose to make aliyah as adults with their own dreams of a life in Israel. We are not those who were born to those parents as sabras. We were taken along for the ride.
While many of us have adapted, adjusted and thrived in our “second” lives, it hasn’t been without it’s struggle. For many of us, high school wasn’t about the best grades or picking high school majors that would help our careers. It was about getting through, day by day trying to understand what we were being taught and trying to make friends with people that we didn’t always completely understand. While many of us would be considered “success stories” and have built rich, full and very Zionistic lives, many others have continued to struggle. Either they never found their place and decided to move back to America once they were able or they live in isolated Anglo communities, working and living only among those they feel most comfortable with. Every one of us has our own story. No two of us are exactly alike. We all have different struggles, different needs and priorities.
The truth is, the same goes for other Olim as well. I have friends that did in fact make aliyah as adults and while they are thrilled to be here and came with their whole hearts, they also each have their own struggle. Their own dreams and ideals. There are older couples who made aliyah as much as 30 to 40 years ago and they don’t feel that they have a full command of Hebrew and the Israeli life system. And yet many more who also feel that they are as Israeli as those born here during the founding of the State. We are not one in the same and yet we all know many of the same struggles. Just like any other Israeli with their own values and priorities and needs and hardships. We all want and look for different things in our lives and in our leaders.
For that reason, I don’t feel that having an Anglo party or more Anglos on the lists is the full solution to “the Anglo issue”. Of course, it’s always nice to see someone like you in a position of power. And those that have reached that coveted position – like Rabbi Dov Lipman and hopefully Jeremy Saltan – have done a wonderful job in trying to represent the values and perspective of Anglo Olim. But to assume that Anglos will vote for whichever party puts the most Anglos on their list is faulty. Many Anglos vote for the party that best matches their values – regardless of who is on the list.
The Anglo Vision group takes another tack. While they advocate for more Anglo representatives on party lists, they would also like to see more parties take on various initiatives that may be important to the Anglo community as part of their platform. While this is an admirable goal and one that I’m sure many Anglos would get behind, it assumes that all Anglos want the same things. Anglo-Israelis cover the full spectrum of political and religious ideology. Just like any other group, they disagree. We cannot assume that what is important to one Anglo will be important to the rest.
I believe there is more to it than that. When it comes to the “decision-making” class of Israeli society, there is a whole backstage that the public don’t think about. For every MK there is a staff, advisors, assistants. For every government office there are department managers. These people have influence. They make an impact. They’re in the room where things happen. Why are more Anglos not in those positions? Perhaps it’s because they aren’t reached out to. Perhaps it’s because they don’t feel that there’s room for them or that they can make that leap. Many Anglos feel that they just don’t understand the system well enough. That doesn’t mean they don’t want to be engaged. I recently started a Facebook page specifically geared towards helping Anglos get a better understanding of Israeli politics and get informed before elections. Within 5 days it had 200 followers with no advertising. Imagine what having an Anglo liaison in MK and government offices could do for Anglo outreach and support! Maybe thousands of Israelis – many of them Anglos – wouldn’t be stranded outside of Israel for weeks. Maybe the Aliyah process would become a bit smoother and help make the decision to make Aliyah easier.
It’s not enough to say that there need to be more Ango MK’s. And it’s not enough to fight for Anglo values to be included on party platforms when Anglo values means something different to different Anglos. Including Anglos in all aspects of government and in government offices behind the scenes, actively reaching out to them and helping them overcome some of their challenges – that’s where real difference can be made. Engaging Anglos in the process as opposed to having them figure it out and fend for themselves – that can make real difference in someone’s life. The only way to keep Anglos from feeling like an “other” is to bring them into the fold.