The outdated laws and regulations that govern political broadcasts in Israel and allow party propaganda to appear on television in fixed slots in the last two weeks running up to the election prevent the campaign ads from being used to gradually build up a political argument and advance the case for voting a particular way. Instead, the ads amount to a Hail Mary pass, a desperate last attempt by parties lagging in the polls to draw voters or an anxious bid by those doing well to safeguard their gains. As a result, the broadcasts, which began last night (Tuesday), are the parties' attempt to salvage their campaigns and an accurate gauge of politicians' fears.
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At some stage, I lost count of the number of times the word "Jewish" was used in the Likud-Yisrael Beiteinu broadcasts – "Jewish state," "Jewish people," "Jewish values" – while footage of Benjamin Netanyahu wearing a kippa and saying "be'ezrat hashem" (with God's help) as shown along with pictures of the Western Wall. Without naming Netanyahu's nemesis, Naftali Bennett, and his national-religious party Habayit Hayehudi (The Jewish Home), Likud is frantically trying to appeal to the multitudes of voters who defected. It was clearly trying to convey that Likud-Yisrael Beiteinu is also a religious party and its leader, Netanyahu, is the only prime minister to have spoken of the Jewish people's eternity in a speech at the United Nations.
Habayit Hayehudi has not been lulled into complacency; it realizes that many of its new voters are transients and not the national-religious party's traditional supporters. Habayit's ads are aimed at keeping them safe. It chose as its spokespeople the most non-threatening faces on its list – attractive secular young woman Ayelet Shaked and popular journalist Uri Orbach. Joining them was an entire supporting cast of bareheaded voters, all conjuring up warm fuzzy images of family and tradition and joint values – and, of course, the spot tried to appeal to younger voters by quoting comments posted on the party's Facebook page. The message was: This isn't a far-right religious party; it is a warm (Jewish) home for us all.
Labor, meanwhile, has been trying to soften Shelly Yachimovich's stern and forbidding image, which seems to be putting off some potential voters. She was presented last night as innately feminist, as a woman who rebelled against gender roles from a young age, and at the same time as a working mother (of an IDF officer and high school student) who cooks feasts for her brood while spearheading the fighting for the public in the Knesset Finance Committee. Meretz seems to think its leader Zahava Galon faces a similar problem and tried to portray a warmer image of her as young girl who immigrated to Israel.
Hatnuah's Tzipi Livni didn't waste any time polishing her personal image for voters. She has a much more fundamental problem: Polls indicate that voters don't yet understand why there is a need for her party. Her broadcasts cut from ominous clips of Netanyahu and Avigdor Lieberman to defiant frames of Livni promising a hopeful and bright future. Hatnuah's ads shamelessly plagiarize from the 2008 Obama campaign, placing a heavy emphasis on change and hope, but they're pretty light on substance.
Shas knows that most of its supporters are far from the party's ultra-Orthodoxy and have to be reminded of their traditional roots by tapping into their most visceral fears. Last night they used a "Chuppah sketch," in which a devious tall, Russian-accented blonde tries to trick a likable but hapless Mizrahi man into marrying a bride who received an instant Jewish conversion from Yisrael Beiteinu. The message is clear: Only Shas will save Israel from being swamped by goyim (and the spot didn’t even get to the African refugees).