Israel Bachar, one of the highest-profile campaign professionals in Israel who has worked with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, former deputy prime minister Benny Gantz, Shas chair MK Aryeh Deri, and more, is turning to diplomacy as consul general in Los Angeles, where he believes he has a “mission to strengthen Jewish identity.”
Bachar is one of the biggest names in political campaigning in Israel, but even bigger than his name is his invention: the blocs strategy. That strategy returned Netanyahu to the premiership in 2009 and has been a constant in Israeli elections ever since:
Up until 2009, the head of the largest party won the election. Bachar realized that the law didn’t state that this has to be the case, and he advised Netanyahu to ensure that other parties on the Right would recommend him to the president. Even though Likud got one seat less than Tzipi Livni’s Kadima, Netanyahu had the most recommendations behind him: He had the biggest bloc.
Ever since, election talk in Israel has been about the right-wing bloc and the left-wing bloc, or the Bibi bloc and the anti-Bibi bloc, as opposed to just which party is the biggest.
Bachar has worked on both sides of today’s political divide, with Netanyahu and Likud, Deri and Shas, Moshe Kahlon’s Kulanu party, and three elections in two years with Benny Gantz, coming up with the party name “Blue and White.”
NEW TERRITORY: Los Angeles. (credit: gettyimages)
NOW, INSTEAD of devising strategies for factions within Israel, the political strategist is bringing his expertise in marketing and campaigns to represent the entire State of Israel as consul general in Los Angeles.
Bachar has a love of the United States that began with his childhood in Beit She’an.
“Both of my parents were textile workers,” he recalled. “My father always said ‘we have enough money for education’ – the point was that ‘we don’t have money for other things.’”
But one of the ways in which Bachar’s parents – born in Morocco and Turkey – chose to spend money was for his older sisters to participate in a student exchange program in the US.
As an adult, Bachar went back and forth between Israel and the US for many years, at first to work in security after his IDF service in the Golani Brigade.
Then, after graduating from Bar-Ilan University and working as a spokesman for prime minister Ariel Sharon in the 1990s, he studied strategic marketing at Fordham University in New York, where he stayed for close to a decade. Bachar worked for the Israeli consulate in New York and in political marketing just as the Internet was gaining popularity among private consumers.
He married an Asian-American woman, Suzanne, who adopted the name Rachel when she converted to Judaism. He regularly attended shul, where he learned to admire the American Jewish role of the synagogue as the center of the community, and not just a space for prayer.
In 2005, Bachar returned to Israel and began to consult for Netanyahu the following year, when former prime minister Naftali Bennett – the man who was to eventually unseat Netanyahu – was chief of staff and Ayelet Shaked was director of the Prime Minister’s Office.
One of the major moments for Bachar in his years of working for Netanyahu was the Bar-Ilan speech, in which the prime minister said he would support a demilitarized Palestinian state. Bachar recounted being in a room with Netanyahu and Strategic Affairs Minister Ron Dermer, who was then his diplomatic adviser, when they encouraged the prime minister to give the speech.
“Netanyahu had come back from a meeting with [then-president of the US Barack] Obama that didn’t go well,” Bachar recounted. “We needed to develop a new strategy because we understood we were losing ground with the public.”
Bachar stayed with Netanyahu for almost five years, a relatively long time in an office with no lack of palace intrigue.
“Strategy and polling are the most important things to Netanyahu,” Bachar said.
“With Netanyahu, there are two boxes – the professional or not. I was in the professional box. With my American background, we had a good professional bond and understood each other. Netanyahu has a professional team who he works with, just a few people in a tight, close group – I like that, but it’s very intense – and whoever is not in the circle, isn’t in the circle.”
Bachar and the prime minister parted on good terms, and the strategist went into corporate marketing and crisis management, where he has had a successful business in which he has come up with strategies for Noble Energy and others in Israel.
BUT IN 2013, another politician made Bachar an intriguing offer.
Former Shas leader Deri sought to return to politics, having served his sentence for bribery and following the required waiting period. Shas had a leader, Eli Yishai, who was quite popular, but Bachar advised Deri to return to Shas – and not to start a new party. The party’s spiritual leader, Rabbi Ovadia Yosef, determined that Deri, Yishai, and then-minister Ariel Attias would lead Shas together, but Deri maneuvered his way to the top on his own very quickly. Bachar ran Shas’s political campaign that year.
In 2018, Bachar switched sides and went to work for Benny Gantz, who at the time was the hottest name in politics. Gantz started out with the Israel Resilience Party, which became Blue and White after Bachar negotiated a merger with Yair Lapid’s Yesh Atid, ahead of the 2019 election.
“That move took Benny from a party leader to a candidate for prime minister. It was a big change. Then, for the first time, there was a big centrist party drawing votes from the Left and the Center-Right,” Bachar said.
Working on strategy for Gantz was a challenge for Bachar, who felt that, in a sense, he was running against his own strategy – the blocs.
“I created a strong strategy for one side, and now I needed to win against it. I knew it wouldn’t be easy,” he said.
Bachar worked for Gantz on three campaigns, until, in 2020, he was recorded while telling a rabbi that the former IDF chief of staff did not have the courage to attack Iran. The recording leaked to the media a few days before the election, and Gantz sacked the strategist. Bachar still views that election as a kind of a victory, saying that the recording “didn’t hurt Blue and White in the numbers. It even made more people on the Left vote for them. If you look at the numbers, their voters increased with each campaign.”
However, he said, the Right had a better “get out the vote” operation and a larger group within Israel from which to attract votes, as there are more right-wing Israelis than centrist or left-wing Israelis.
As for his personal reputation, Bachar said that offers continued to come in because “in politics, people look for a guy who brings results. There are not too many people with a proven track record.”
After a brief stint as a commentator on Channel 13, Bachar returned for election number five to run another campaign for Shas. Bachar helped bring the party 11 seats in the Knesset, and Deri asked Netanyahu to give Bachar a diplomatic post.
Boasting the right skills for diplomacy
ALTHOUGH HE has taken an unusual route to diplomacy, Bachar said he has the right skill set and background for the job of consul general in Los Angeles.
“I think I bring a lot to the table because I understand the Israeli DNA very well, but I also understand the American culture,” he said.
“I believe that I can be a bridge for a lot of communities in [the] governmental sense, on the state level, and among the tech and business communities.”
When asked whether he’s ready for the shift in the kind of messages he will broadcast, from the divisiveness of a political campaign to the conveying of a united Israeli message, he took issue with the premise.
“In political campaigns, you need to create consensus between voting blocs, not divisions,” he said.
Bachar will be representing Israel during a tense period, in which there are massive protests in the streets of Israel, and Israeli expats in the Diaspora have organized demonstrations of their own. He could be a target as a political appointee of this government.
“I represent the State of Israel as a diplomat,” Bachar said.
“People have different thoughts and beliefs, but at the end of the day we have one Jewish state, and we Israelis know we have one longstanding friend – America. American Jewry is important, and the State of Israel needs them and their communities… It’s mutual. I don’t think we can do well without each other.
“We are here in Israel because we are Jewish, not for any other reason,” he stated. “I’m not here to preach about Jewish law, but I do believe that I have a mission to strengthen Jewish identity.”
Bachar, 52, began a process of becoming religious at age 30, such that he says he is able to understand both the secular and the religious mindset. When he returned to Israel in 2005, newly Orthodox, he realized that the kippah he chose would label him politically – a large crocheted kippah could have made him seem like he was on the far Right, while a black satin one would look haredi. Instead, he chose a kind of kippah not seen as often in Israel: suede. He said people sometimes tease him for having an “American” kippah – but he prefers not to be put in a political box.
Bachar said that “there is no Zionism without Judaism and Jewish identity” and that Israel needs to try to bring Jewish people together.
“We need to say ‘Shema Israel’ and just ‘shema’ – hear each other. I think we have a lot of common ground. We need to go back to the fundamentals of what the Jewish state means and for Israel to give respect to American Jewry. We have to hear them,” he said.
Beyond the Jewish community, Bachar said he hopes to engage with political leaders in the states that the LA consulate covers, such as California, Arizona, Nevada, Utah, and Colorado.
“Not all politics are in Washington, and a lot is done in the states… California is a powerhouse for American politics,” he said. “I want to help cultivate government relations between these states and the government of Israel, and I think I have a talent for it.”
Bachar also wants to reach out to younger Americans and pointed to surveys showing that young evangelicals are less supportive of Israel.
“We have a tremendous job to try to speak to young people in our foreign policy and communication efforts,” he stated. “We need to start much younger than 25 years old, among Jews and non-Jews.”
The strategist-turned-diplomat, whose creative thinking made his career, added: “We need to be more creative on this front.”