East courts West in Israel

A San Francisco native, Aryeh Green, took grassroots political techniques learned in the United States and put them to work in the Israeli election. Green hoped to involve more English-speaking olim in support of the Yisrael B’Aliya party, known best …

A San Francisco native, Aryeh Green, took grassroots political techniques learned in the United States and put them to work in the Israeli election. Green hoped to involve more English-speaking olim in support of the Yisrael B’Aliya party, known best for its base of Russian immigrants. The effort was identified as a way to highlight Israeli democracy in the U.S. media. A feature story on Aryeh Green, an idealistic American citizen expressing his democratic values in Israel, was pitched to and appeared in the San Francisco Chronicle. CNN Domestic ran a story on the growing political involvement of Russian olim as a result of this pitch as well.

Here is the story that the San Francisco Chronicle ran on January 16, 2003.

EAST COURTS WEST IN ISRAEL

By Danielle Weiss

Jerusalem – An expatriate San Franciscan is spearheading a drive to bring American – style pluralism and accountability to the political system of his adopted country, Israel.

Aryeh Green, a 40-year-old who was raised in the Richmond District, believes the key to tackling corruption and polarization in Israeli politics lies in the hands of fellow Anglo, or English-speaking, immigrants.

“We are prominent in high tech, in finance, the sciences and academia, but we are very few in politics,” said the father of three and former high-tech worker who immigrated to Israel in 1984.

“Anglos come to Israel with a political tradition of tolerance and compromise but find tremendous ideological battles once they get here,” Green said. “By culture, if not birth, we can help change the political dialogue here.”
Achieving that goal among Israel’s English-speaking community, estimated to number between 150,000 and 300,000, is likely to be harder than it sounds.

Western-born immigrants are prominent in several sectors of the economy, and some – like former Prime Minister Golda Meir, who grew up in Milwaukee, and Russian-born ex-President Chaim Weizmann — have gone on to become important figures in the nation’s history.


But individual successes have not been accompanied by the emergence of a larger defined Anglo power bloc in parliament — partly because some have tended to avoid politics, while others have become quickly absorbed into the existing structure.

But this election season, Green is addressing the issue in his capacity as head of the Anglo division of the center-right Yisrael B’Aliya party headed by Deputy Prime Minister Natan Sharansky, the onetime Soviet dissident.
Other groups, including the secularist Shinui party and the center-left Meimad party, also have Anglo-focused drives that include English-language divisions.

Yisrael B’Aliya is a pro-Likud faction whose name literally means “Israel on the rise.” But it also refers to the importance of immigration, or aliyah, and has come to be known as the party of Israel’s million-strong Russian immigrant population.

The party, which has six seats in the Knesset, has championed several causes close to Russian hearts since it was founded in 1996, including tackling the thorny issues of religious conversion for immigrants not recognized as Jews by Israeli law, and cheaper housing.
But with the violence associated with the Palestinian intifada driving Russians even further to the political right — many are defecting to the Israel Our Home party led by another Russian immigrant, Avigdor Lieberman – Yisrael B’Aliya is reaching out to other sectors in its attempts to remain a player.

The party has identified Anglos as its next target group. As part of its new emphasis, it is working to amend a new tax reform law that has many Westerners up in arms because it levies taxes on overseas pensions and passive income.

“Most Anglos say, ‘I love Natan, he is a hero of the Jewish people. But what do I have in common with a bunch of Russian immigrants?’ ” Green said.

Russians are often derided for their failure to integrate into Israeli society, their reputation as a sector with links to organized crime and for Russian women’s involvement in the sex industry. But Green contends that although Sharansky and the Anglos may come from “different places” in political thought, geography and history, they have the “same ideas of what Israel should be as a Jewish state.”
Yisrael B’Aliya’s platform emphasizes pragmatic rather than ideological solutions. It calls for eradicating the “autonomy for terror” provided by the Palestinian Authority, encouraging democracy in neighboring Arab nations, expanding economic development zones for needy urban areas, and changing Sunday from a working day to a day off for everyone.

Dr. Stefani Hoffman, an expert in Russian affairs at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem, said Anglos are also attractive to Yisrael B’Aliya because “they tend to have money and generally tend to be more well established” than Russians.

“They may not be as rich as certain South Africans,” she added wryly, referring to the current scandal surrounding a $1.5 million loan to Prime Minister Ariel Sharon’s family by Cyril Kern, a South African friend.

Getting an Anglo-friendly message across is not easy on a budget of less than $40,000, but in the run-up to the Jan. 28 election, Green and his aides are distributing campaign literature in English, regularly updating Yisrael B’Aliya’s English language Web site, and holding open meetings and smaller private gatherings in members’ homes.

Coleman Brosilow, 68, a chemical engineer who arrived in Israel two years ago from Ohio, is one of Yisrael B’Aliya’s 1,000 or so Anglo members.

“If you look at the parties and what they want, Yisrael B’Aliya is the one that fits in terms of outreach to the Jewish community, immigrants, education, ” he said while waiting for Sharansky to arrive at a private home near Tel Aviv.
A few minutes later, the diminutive Sharansky, clutching a mug of tea, was ushered in and sat down in the living room with some 30 Anglos to assess the election campaign.

“I am surprised by the big waves we have made in the English (speaking) community,” Sharansky said in thick Russian-accented English, adding that an increasing number of Anglos were approaching him at synagogues to express their support.

“It is important we have at least one (Knesset) candidate elected because of support from English speakers,” he said. “Twelve thousand to 15,000 votes. That’s what I want you to deliver.”

But with time running out and polls estimating the party will win only three to five seats, Green is looking long term.

“We’re not here for this election, but also for the next,” he said. “It will take time. But it’s clear to me that Yisrael B’Aliya needs the input of Anglos to present itself as a real alternative.”