The Jerusalem Post
Has mother-tongue English become a prerequisite for PM?
Until recently, the clearest path to the premiership in Israel was seen as going through the military.
The higher the rank in the IDF, the easier it was to advance to the top politically.
But lately it is not the ranks on their shoulders that is helping politicians move up in Israeli politics, but their accents when speaking English – or lack thereof.
Israel replaced Benjamin Netanyahu, who spent much of his childhood in suburban Philadelphia, with Naftali Bennett, who spent part of his childhood next door in New Jersey. Bennett has the added bonus of being raised by American parents. His mother, Myrna, called The Jerusalem Post her “home newspaper” at the Knesset on Sunday.
Both Netanyahu and Bennett speak perfect English with
American accents that have now become the norm for prime ministers, raising the question of whether they have set a new standard in Israeli politics. Has mother-tongue English become a prerequisite for an Israeli prime minister?
The answer could decide who replaces Netanyahu as Likud leader, whether it will be in a matter of months or years.
That race will include candidates with perfect English, like MKs Nir Barkat, Yuli Edelstein, Tzachi Hanegbi and Avi Dichter, against those who have struggled with the language, like MKs Israel Katz and Miri Regev.
Barkat made a point of showcasing his English in videos he played for thousands of Likudniks at a rally June 10. The videos, which depicted Barkat speaking English to top international figures in politics and business, were intended to present himself to Likudniks as Netanyahu’s natural successor.
Foreign Minister Yair Lapid spent his early childhood in London, when his father was posted there as a correspondent for Maariv. He speaks with a slight British accent, which would continue the trend of accents when Israelis speak English.
The thick Israeli accents of Yitzhak Rabin and Menachem Begin when speaking English were seen as making them more authentically Israeli, endearing them to the world. Had Begin said “No more war, no more bloodshed” with the queen’s English – or Netanyahu’s – it would not have felt the same.
But the recent trend of Netanyahu and Bennett has made it likely that Israel will never go back, and American accents for its prime ministers are here to stay.
Having the right army insignia on their shoulders, of course, cannot hurt a politician. But if they cannot explain it in Jersey, they apparently won’t come to power in Jerusalem.