On a muggy summer evening in Tel Aviv, some 70 English-speaking Israelis showed up at Dizzy Frishdon, a fashionable bar on Dizengoff Street, to hear the Blue and White party pledge its allegiance to their presumably shared democratic values.
Just two and a half months after the last election, and two and a half away from the next, some parties have yet to launch their Hebrew campaigns for the September national ballot. Still, Blue and White, which landed 35 Knesset seats in the April election but failed to gain the backing of a majority of lawmakers, is already pushing ahead with targeted community outreach for English, Russian and French speakers.
For Monday’s gathering, the party sent a smattering of non-senior MKs — newcomers Yorai Lahav-Hertzanu, Miki Haimovich, and Izhar Shay, and returning lawmaker Boaz Toporovsky (famous for posing topless in his Knesset office as a Yesh Atid MK in 2015) — to woo potential English-speaking, known locally as Anglo, voters. Blue and White No. 2 Yair Lapid also popped in for a flying visit.
Making up 2.9 percent of the total national electorate, the approximately 170,000 eligible voters of the English-speaking community potentially represent around four Knesset seats in total.
According to Lahav-Hertzanu, who was placed 35 on the party’s electoral slate and was therefore the last of its candidates to enter the Knesset, campaign events like Monday’s are an important tool not only to disseminate the political messaging, but to also gain insight into individual concerns of the Anglo community.
“The English-speaking electorate in Israel has a common denominator,” Shay, listed 20th on Blue and White’s slate, said. “They particularly care about democratic values, and we will make sure they will be upheld.” It was a pointed dig at recent legislative efforts to protect Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu from criminal prosecution in three corruption cases that are pending against him.
According to Blue and White leader Benny Gantz, Netanyahu’s alleged determination to hold on to power at all costs has come to threaten Israel’s very democracy — with the courts, law enforcement and the media all the focus of a sustained attack from him and his allies. The once admirable prime minister, blighted by the sheer length of his time in office, his opponents claim, has become obsessed with his own political survival to the point where he poses a danger to the future of the country he has led for the past decade.
But most of the evening focused on issues directly affecting the primarily immigrant crowd.
Michelle Kemp-Nordell, a 54-year-old immigrant from Alabama, told the Blue and White lawmakers, for example, that the ulpan system to teach Hebrew does not always work for older immigrants and leaves some behind. “The hands of Anglos need to be held a little bit,” she said.
MK Shai said that Blue and White could appeal to Anglos because the party aims to approach politics in a manner familiar to immigrants from English-speaking countries, particularly the US.
Americans, he said, are used to “good and organized” politics, something Blue and White wants to “set a precedent for” in Israel.