Israeli election preview: Brit Ashley Perry on the campaign trail February 26 2015
Right-winger Perry has followed his Liberal Democrat father into politics
Ashley Perry is the only Brit standing for the Knesset at next month’s election. He talks
to Jenni Frazer about his roots, making aliyah and party politics.
Running for parliament may well be in Ashley Perry’s genes. Just a month before he
was born in 1974, his father, Woolf, ran – unsuccessfully – for the Liberals against
Labour Housing Minister Reg Freeson in London’s Brent East.
Ashley Perry’s story might be different. He is the only British-born Israeli to be standing
for Knesset in March’s elections – and may well be, as far as he can guess, the only
candidate ever born in Britain to be running for election in Israel.
There have been several Americans over the years but no Brits. And though Perry is relatively
low on the Yisrael Beiteinu list of candidates – he’s currently 20th on the list – the party’s commitment
to the separation of executive and legislature may well see him shoot to a higher position.
As he explains: “We don’t want ministers to sit in the Knesset. We think that ministers can’t do their jobs and be inside the Knesset, the only exception being the party chairman.” Based on the number of seats Yisrael Beiteinu won in the last election, Perry expects the party to get at least five ministerial portfolios – and those people, he says, would leave the Knesset list and make way for people – like him – lower down.
If Perry sounds like a well-oiled party apparatchik, it’s because he is. He’s earned his
spurs by working as an adviser to a number of Israeli politicians, principally the
controversial Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman (with whom he plays a mean game of
tennis) for the past seven or so years. His soothing British tones have become familiar
to Israeli reporters as, like the lawyer he once planned to be (although his first degree
is in history), he meticulously unpicks the misconceptions and rumours that swirl
around Israeli politics.
Perry, who made aliyah in 2001 in the middle of the intifada, is a relative newcomer to
Israel, but comes from one of the oldest English Jewish families. “We were a Sephardi
family, whose original name was Perez, who were invited by Oliver Cromwell to come
to Britain in 1656.”
Brought up in Mill Hill before studying at Carmel College, Perry did his history degree at
UCL and then spent a year in New York, planning to study law.
But the draw of Israel was too strong and Perry, whose father had at one time been the
only Briton on the executive of Keren Hayesod, made aliyah. “I really wanted to
contribute,” he says. “People ask, what can Israel do for me, but I really wanted to know
what I could do for Israel.”
For several years, he worked for advocacy organisations and political parties before a chance
meeting in 2007 with Danny Ayalon, fresh back from being Israel’s ambassador to the United
States. Ayalon joined Avgidor Lieberman’s Yisrael Beiteinu party, and became Deputy Foreign Minister.
Although the party was originally founded for Russian immigrants, Perry now calls it a party for
all immigrants – and, as an “Anglo” immigrant, he is very comfortable within it. “I found
it the greatest fit for me,” says Perry, who, among other things, was one of the founders
of Honest Reporting.
Although he says he has “the greatest admiration” for the professional foreign ministry
staff with whom he works, Perry feels that “the place I can be most effective is in the
He is a keen advocate of changes in the convulsive Israeli political system, backing
Yisrael Beiteinu plans for a higher threshold of votes for Knesset elections, to try to
whittle down the number of parties to a more manageable number. “We need greater
government stability”, he says, an observation with which most politicians, from right or
left, would surely agree.
Perry is bullish about some of his party’s more controversial stances. It has been accused, for example,
of anti-Arab racism, but he rejectsthis, declaring that Yisrael Beitenu has “two members of the Arabicspeaking population in realistic spots on our list, one a member of the Druze community and one
from the Christian Arab community, much higher than on any other party’s [list.] The only
colour that matters to us is the blue of one’s ID card”.
In the previous Knesset, he says, it was his party’s MKs who “oversaw a major overhaul
of the water and electricity infrastructure of Arab villages in the north, which were
unduly ignored for too long.” He claims, in fact, that there is greater Arab and Druze
support for Yisrael Beiteinu than any other non-Arab political party.
He is also robust about the allegations of corruption that swirl round Yisrael Beitenu,
not least relating to party chairman Lieberman, who was cleared of a number of fraud
and breach of trust charges in November 2013.
Perry says: “There is not a single person on the Yisrael Beiteinu list who is under any
type of investigation and suspicion. We are proud of the fact that we don’t have anyone
on our list ever convicted of any type of criminal offence”.
These days Perry, who lives in the West Bank settlement town of Efrat with his wife and
four children, has a turbulent campaign in which he is addressing English speakers all
over the country. The Anglo vote, he says, has been too often neglected in Israeli
politics, but adds proudly that his party has an active English-language division that
works for Anglo-Israelis all the time, not just before elections.
He is optimistic and confident about Yisrael Beiteinu’s chances in the March election,
despite its current low showing in the polls. He says: “According to statistical analyses,
Yisrael Beiteinu has consistently been the party most undervalued in the polls, as
opposed to the actual results, in previous elections. I think that remains true in these
elections, as we were polling around the same numbers in 2009, the last time we ran as
a separate party, and we ended up receiving 15 mandates.”
For Perry, there are three big issues: “Zionism, aliyah, and hasbara [public relations].
We spend 20 per cent of the national budget, and on hasbara less than is spent on
promoting yogurts. We can answer any of our detractors throughout the world but we
need a better budget for public diplomacy.”
And he has one big dream, which he himself admits is not a vote-getter. “We should
establish an international Jewish and Zionist school system of the highest calibre. It’s
time for Israel to return the favour and help the diaspora to maintain itself.”
Diaspora Jews don’t have votes, of course: but Perry is looking to the long-term. Even if
he doesn’t get into the Knesset this March, his is a name to watch.