Crazy campaigns

Israeli election campaigns are bizarre. They are shallow. And, at least in this election, many of them simply backfired.

Let’s start with the bizarre. To begin with, campaign ads are broadcast on national television in a single, massive bloc, as if they comprised a hit show. They are not interspersed throughout an evening’s broadcasts, like commerical advertisements, but like propaganda. Each party has a certain amount of air time, with the largest parties given the most air time. The ads are not randomized but are shown in a stream, one party’s after the other, until the conclusion of the broadcast. The airing rotates between the three major television channels. So, anyone can catch them — or avoid them, if they choose.

Then there are the ads themselves. In one for Labor, a house repairman scoffs at Labor leader Ehud Barak for not learning how to “spackle over” unconvenient truths. The stereotypically dishonest repairman wonders, if Barak refuses to lie, how can he expect to get elected?

The ad is drawn-out, taking too long to get to the punchline — and even when it does, it leaves the viewer feeling flat. Hadn’t Barak zig-zagged enough, unconvincingly described bad situations as victories, and generally established his reputation as a man concerned far more with his own advancement than the status of his party? Did he not reneg on almost all his election promises once he became prime minister? And what did this ad say about his rivals, who were also vying for votes? That’s right, nothing.

Sephardi religious party Shas chose two approaches: their traditional campaign of ads on intracity buses, saying nothing about politics but simply showing a photo of their spiritual guide, Rabbi Ovadia Yosef, with a verse from the Bible; and party chairman Eli Yishai standing in front of the Old City of Jerusalem, pointing out the proximity of territory under the control of the Palestinian Authority and vowing not to hand over any more of Jerusalem to the Arabs.

The first tack features not one of the party’s Knesset members, says nothing of the party’s vision for the state, and regularly dances on the boundary marking illegal suggestions of heavenly reward in exchange for votes. The Yishai television ad brings up a subject that is neither new nor up for discussion in the forseeable future, and emphasizes an issue — security affairs — that Shas generally leaves to the larger parties. (And since Shas supports military service exemptions for yeshiva students, it generally refrains from rattling sabers.)

Even on its more natural topic of social welfare, the party again demanded higher child welfare payments — but failed to explain why it supported for years a system in which first and second children were “worth” less than fifth and sixth children, a system that rewarded non-working haredi and Arab families for having large families. It also offered absolutely nothing in terms of an economic vision of growth that would help pay for larger welfare payments.

There was a fair share of eccentrics trying, against all odds, to make it into the Knesset with vague platforms and conspiracy theories, making ads with production values that didn’t even reach the level of public access television. But probably the wierdest campaign ad came from the party that rose from a breakaway from the marijuana legalization party and disgruntled Holocaust survivors. One had to see the wrinkled old man, speaking in a thick European accent, reading unconvincingly from his script about the need “to legalize this plant and exploit the tax receipts for the benefit of aged Holocaust survivors,” to believe it.

Ironically, the best ad came from a young Arab woman heading a small party of Arab social activists called Da’am. The attorney spoke half in Hebrew and half in Arabic — but what really made her stand out was what she said. This woman was being denied her nationally mandated minimum wage and social benefits, the attorney said, but we fought for her and now she receives the full wage and benefits to which she is entitled. And so on. This was the only ad of the entire cammpaign in which a candidate said, “This is what I have done for my constituency. If you want me to fight for you, vote for me.”

Frankly, I was tempted to vote for Da’am on that basis alone. Also, Israeli Arabs deserve representation much more like this and much less like those ineffectual, treasonous parties that return to the Knesset and claim to represent Israel’s largest minority… but that’s another story.

Likud’s attack campaign was robbed of its momentum by the fighting in Gaza, but its insistence on merely belittling Kadima leader Tzipi Livni as “not ready” for the responsibility of the country — rather than explaining why her role in Ehud Olmert’s government, from heading a reparations scheme for the Gaza evacuees that all agree failed terribly, to the uninforceable UN resolution concluding the 2006 Lebanon war that all agree failed terribly, to her failure to push for Olmert’s immediate resignation in light of his criminal investigations and the war in Lebanon that all agree failed terribly, to her insistence on ending the Gaza operation while IDF troops were within striking distance of smashing the command system of Hamas — doomed Likud to its underwhelming showing at the polls. At every turn, Livni begged for a public debate with Netanyahu, but he refused — and thereby lost the opportunity to present his vision for leading the country. If Netanyahu thought he could waltz into the premiership on his charm and right-wing credentials alone, he made a huge mistake.

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One Response

  1. No one’s ad was worth anything because the parties aren’t based on anything of worth.

    The only parties who seem worth anything are the ones who, in the current political system, don’t stand a chance of getting even a single seat. I was itching to vote for one of them. But I knew I’d be throwing away my vote, like I did in the previous elections in which I did vote for people I actually believed in.

    I wish my dilemma was only mine – but being unable to choose between all the worthless and defunct candidates until I was able to decide which was the least worst seems to have happened to most people I know.

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