The election advertisements officially begin today, with their cacophony of jingles, pyrotechnics and gimmicks that have become part and parcel of our election campaigns; although no one has ever proved that all the hoopla adds anything to public discourse or changes the voters' minds.
In an old Labor party publicity spot, we see Avraham Burg, Yuli Tamir, Haim Ramon, Ofir Pines, Avraham Shochat and Dalia Itzik standing in a row and wearing "We Believe in You, Mitzna" T-shirts. Now the spot looks like something out of a "Where Are They Today?" column. Burg went into business; Shochat quit politics; Itzik and Ramon hooked up with Shimon Peres and joined Kadima. Amram Mitzna, the Great White Hope, was last seen on television frying eggs in Yeruham.
In that same election campaign, Ariel Sharon was portrayed as someone who cracked under pressure and, as such, was totally unfit to be prime minister. If Sharon were to wake up from his coma even for a split second, he would roar with laughter and slide back into unconsciousness with a smile on his face. Sharon did what no Labor prime minister ever dared to do. He gave the orders for an about-face, turning our backs on occupation and settlement.
The big parties spend colossal sums on campaign ads of the soap-operatic kind, without any proof that they help to change the political map. National flags flapping in the wind and candidates sitting in a mock-up of the prime minister's office don't stir people's hearts. Surveys have shown that after a couple of days of watching these spots, the majority of the public zaps to another channel.
Voters have become more serious-minded than the contenders. If anything has changed voting patterns it is not television ads but suicide bombings. Even in the elections for the 17th Knesset, only a mega-attack is capable of altering voting patterns overnight.
Strategic advisers and big names in the advertising world are investing everything they've got in grandiose productions scheduled for release over the next three wild and wondrous weeks leading up to election day. According to reports in Haaretz, the Kadima campaign will focus on "positive" spots, interspersed with attacks on Bibi and Amir Peretz.
It's not clear what is so positive about poking fun at Peretz's English, when they could just say he's inexperienced and not ready to lead the nation. And why call Bibi a panic-monger when they could just tell the truth, which is that Bibi is the same Bibi, i.e., it's not a political flaw, but a matter of character.
Kadima's PR experts are facing a double problem: (a) How to hitch a ride on Sharon, considering that there is a limit to the dividends you can earn from a comatose leader; and (b) How to turn Olmert into a Sharon-sized leader. The more he is portrayed as Sharon's No. 2, the more voters are likely to suspect that they are being conned. Because if Olmert were such a prize, where has he been all these years? Since slipping into Sharon's shoes, it's true that Olmert has changed in voice, appearance and behavior, but no makeover is going to turn him into Sharon.
Jingles, no matter how brilliant, will not satisfy the voters' desire to know what Kadima really is. Is it a here-today-gone-tomorrow party formed for one purpose, such as the Democratic Movement for Change in 1977, which toppled the Labor party and fell apart, like a bee that stings once and dies? Will Kadima be a majority party that will change the face of Israel, or a one-man party finished off by the disappearance of that one man?
Most of the public, and even its ad hoc leaders, are not clear on what the Kadima platform entails. Will it continue the policy of unilateral disengagement? Will it stick to the road map? Will it talk to Hamas? The voting public wants to know whom it is voting for. This question could be answered if the leaders of the big parties faced each other on the podium and spoke openly about where they stand and what they intend to do - which is only fair. But Olmert says no, and it's a shame.
So what is it? A movement? A party? A list? A bird? A plane? Kadima, which came from nowhere and is liable to end up nowhere, remains worryingly enigmatic. In the three weeks left until the elections, what we need, folks, is transparency, not jingles.
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