In Search Of A Likudnik
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In Search Of A Likudnik

Israeli Prime Minster Benjamin Netanyahu greets supporters at his victory speech in Tel Aviv, April 10, 2019. JTA
Israeli Prime Minster Benjamin Netanyahu greets supporters at his victory speech in Tel Aviv, April 10, 2019. JTA

‘Realization: I have two citizenships and I’m a non-represented minority in both,” Tali Kurt Galai wrote on her Facebook page after the Israeli elections, drawing rounds of agreement from her Israeli-American friends. “I don’t feel that either Trump or Bibi are my presidents. Neither of them speaks to my worldview,” she explained to me later. “I accept the decision of the majority, because I have no choice, but what it makes me feel is resistance and alienation.”

Tali and I are Facebook friends, once removed. She’s been living in the U.S. for the past 15 years, has three kids ages 7 to 16, lives on the Upper East Side and works as an organizational consultant. We have a lot in common: Like me, she still feels, paradoxically, that the Israeli elections affect her on a more personal level than the American ones (her husband flew back to Israel so at least one of them would vote). And she finds that their results have somehow eased the ever-gnawing conflict over raising her children outside of Israel. With the largest left-leaning Israeli parties, Labor and Meretz, polling less than 10 percent between them, we both feel like underrepresented minorities. You couldn’t tell that from our Facebook pages, though. A 2018 Jewish People Policy Institute survey conducted by journalist Shmuel Rosner and Tel Aviv University Professor Camil Fuchs found that only 5 percent of Israelis identify as leftists, 11 percent as center-left. Are all of them our Facebook friends? Do they all live in New York now?

“All my friends are just like me,” Tali admitted. “I realize I live in a bubble. I mean, we think we see the world, but what is accessible to us is our close circle of friends, all the people who think like us and their own friends, who think like them.”   

In the spring of 2016, at the height of the U.S. presidential campaign, The Wall Street Journal created a real-time news tracker that, by collecting trending news stories on Facebook, offered a side-by-side look at online conversations on current events from opposing political perspectives. The results showed that social networks create “echo chambers,” in which users see posts almost exclusively from like-minded friends and media sources. These two parallel realities rarely meet, creating distinct camps that do not agree on the facts and cannot understand each other’s thinking.

The same happens regarding Israel, of course. If I don’t actively seek it, the discourse that shapes the worldview of 95 percent of Israelis flies right by me. Still, I expected that for us, New York’s Israeli-American community, things would be different. There aren’t so many of us, after all, and we naturally clump together. We all move in the same Hebrew-centric circles, see the world through a distinctly Israeli lens and stand out like socially-sore thumbs among our Jewish-American brethren, so that we are practically forced to stick together. Such strong, practical ties must trump a purely conceptual left-right divide, right? So how is it that I currently have only one Likudnik friend that I know of?

This troubled me — particularly because I already interviewed the guy like three times; I can’t keep doing that — so I decided to seek out and reconnect with some old friends who identify as Likudnik and might be able to tell me about life and politics as they see them.

I find Hadar, my former roommate and late-night confidant, back where I left her a decade ago, in the Israeli-American micro-niche of Midwood. She works as a beautician in a Jewish-run salon now, is married to an Israeli-American realtor and is raising two boys, ages 4 and 6. The entire family traveled to Israel for the elections, where both she and her husband voted for Benjamin Netanyahu as prime minister and Likud as their party (in Israel’s dual election system, the prime minister and the party are voted for separately).

“I have a few friends that voted Blue and White” (the new centrist party), Hadar told me. “But they’re not really friends, you know. My family and I vote Bibi, always will … no matter what they come up with to tarnish him, Bibi is my king.”

Hadar doesn’t mind Trump (“he makes me laugh”), but, like Tali and me, still feels that the Israeli elections affect her on a more personal level than the American ones. She’s pretty sure her family will move back one day. If not, she would want her boys to volunteer for the IDF. She has concerns about the growing power of Israel’s religious parties, but by and large is “happy and proud” of the direction the country is moving in. “Today, the moon,” she states, “tomorrow, the West Bank.”

“So,” she clears her throat, “Did you want to actually get into politics, or…?”

A second or two pass in silence. “Let’s not.”

“Yeah,” she exhales. After a few more minutes of chit-chat we wrap it up with a promise to stay in touch, but we probably won’t. Tali and I, on the other hand, already have a coffee date.

Orli Santo’s column appears the first week of the month.

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