Israeli Ad Watch

12.18.12

Campaigning For The Anglo Vote

This Israeli election campaign has primarily been about egos and the personal quest for power. As Aluf Benn noted, Benjamin Netanyahu isn’t doing all that much for his campaign, apart from photo ops and Facebook postings. But it seems other parties are starting to lay out clearer policy positions: Tzipi Livni has just come out with a new emphasis on peace with the Palestinians by arguing that settlements “suck up” scarce resources (reminiscent of Yitzhak Rabin’s 1992 attacks on Yitzhak Shamir) and some specifics about her economic plan.

Video screenshot

Less prominent is the emerging fight over Israel’s English-speaking immigrant community. A new ad campaign by Jewish Home highlights the importance parties are ascribing to its voting power. The first video is out: tasteful, non-controversial, and to the point. It has a catchy title: The Bayit Yehudi—Because Israel is Your Jewish Home. This is all the more interesting since early reactions to the party’s leader, Naftali Bennett, and its platform focused on their hardline position on the West Bank and settlements.

A religious Zionist party (Bennett himself chaired the Yesha Council, the umbrella organization of settlements), Jewish Home has already gone through several incarnations, forming out of the older National Religious Party and merging with and splitting from smaller secular nationalist groups.

But the party has been polling well in recent weeks, up to 11 seats from five. Jeremy Saltan, Jewish Home’s English Speaking Campaign Manager, says the party is now targeting the 250,000-strong immigrant community in Israel (including in the West Bank), most of whose native tongue is English, regardless of how long they’ve lived in the country.

Saltan adds the party will be opening up an “anglo” division after the election, and will build English-language tools and media for this community. In other words, this isn’t just a single electoral issue, but a stepping stone for a longer, deeper process of strengthening the party.

Although not the first time the English speaking immigrant community has been the subject of electoral attention, there’s a renewed push this time, and it’s a smart move. First, it’s a significant community in electoral terms. In the last election, 27,246 votes went to each Knesset seat. That means this community represents 9 potential mandates.

Second, new immigrants tend to be more right-leaning than not. The short video focuses only on “Zionism,” “Jewish values,” and Jewish education,” and it features a handful of individuals—all party candidates—and Bennett himself, who sums up the ad with “It’s time to take the message of your aliyah to the entire country.” It doesn’t define these concepts, allowing the broadness of the message to resonate with an electorate that’s been shifting rightward for a number of years.

Third, the party sees an opening here: Saltan argues that for the first time in many years, voters have a genuine choice between the secular Likud Beiteinu (which has also started to pay attention to the English speakers) and the national religious. Not only is Jewish Home composed of “anglo” immigrants itself (Bennett’s family is from California), but its religious Zionism is expected to be attractive to the American immigrants especially, who tend to be more traditional or religious in practice and who have strong Zionist inclinations.

The general conclusion is that the right will form the new government and Benjamin Netanyahu will become prime minister again. But there are still some unknowns, and there is room for smaller parties across the spectrum to maneuver. It’s not a done deal for Jewish Home to be included in the coalition, depending on how Netanyahu calculates his interests.

But the bigger the party is, and the more it can appeal to communities across society, the more likely it will be included. This ad campaign is a proactive effort in the struggle for voters among the rightwing parties, which is no less intense than the more obvious fight among the center and leftwing ones.