Israeli Government Campaign Aims to Convince Public Its Standard of Living Has Improved

Despite rising prices, new PR campaign - launched by the government with public funding - is telling Israelis that they are better off, and is raising hackles.

The prices of gasoline, electricity and bread are spiking, and value-added tax on everything we buy is about to increase another 1%, but the Prime Minister's Office and the Finance Ministry seem to think this is an opportune moment to convince the public that our standard of living has improved due to their actions.

On Wednesday, the government launched an advertising campaign featuring four families who were helped by government benefits offered in the wake of last year's cost-of-living protests: namely, the law granting free education for children starting at age 3, which saves the parents of 270,000 preschoolers about NIS 800 a month; and new tax credits that save working fathers NIS 430 a month for each child under 3, and working mothers NIS 235 a month for each child under 5.

The campaign has been raising hackles, and people who participated in the ads also said the messages don't necessarily represent their opinions.

The campaign is airing on the commercial television channels; three radio stations - Israel Radio, Army Radio and Galgalatz; as well as online and in newspapers. The total cost is NIS 5 million - of public money, of course.

The Government Publications Office produced the campaign, and also tracked down families to participate. Over the past few weeks, it advertised on social media to find young families that would fit the bill. The "wanted" ads did not say that the campaign was on behalf of the Prime Minister's Office, and participants said they presumed they were signing up to film a commercial for a company, not a political campaign.

The best candidates were interviewed by ad agency representatives to make sure they suited the message. "We sought families who would film well, who would convey the message, who look like they're living well," said one source involved in the campaign. "The interviewers came to their homes to make sure that they would indeed convey our message."

'A huge stretch'

The families received NIS 5,000 for each day of shooting, and filming lasted two days on average for each family. Advertising industry sources say this is a standard payment for members of the public who participate in commercials.

The campaign's messages were written by a GPO official, but GPO representatives said they let the families convey their own personal messages. "It was clear what they had to say. We set the messages, but every family could give it a personal twist," said a source.

But when reached by TheMarker, campaign participants sang a slightly different tune.

Rami Kaplan, a communications teacher who is featured in one of the clips, said his family is still part of the struggling middle class. "I have lots of worries, like everyone in the middle class," he said. "We always think twice before spending money. We live in a country that's not cheap at all. We supported the cost-of-living protests."

The advertising campaign doesn't convey his personal beliefs, Kaplan said. "I saw they made a connection so that it would seem like we represent the leadership and that everything is rosy. But I'm not a political person and I don't belong to a political party. To turn me into a government representative before the elections, that's a huge stretch. We presented only our side, the fact that we saved money on our 3-year-old's preschool. In our case the benefit is meaningful, otherwise we wouldn't have participated."

Haim Greenberg, another participant, also doesn't think that life in Israel is easy for the middle class. Greenberg, who works at a quality-control company, said he also supported the cost-of-living protests, "but I didn't go to them - I was working evenings in order to make ends meet. That says a lot."

Greenberg said his wife, Chen, applied to participate. "We didn't know exactly what it was. Maybe it looks political, but it isn't. Of the 20 people who came to our house to film, I don't think a single one supports the prime minister," said Greenberg. "They were all just doing their jobs as well as possible. None of this contains anything about our opinions, just the fact that we're receiving a benefit worth NIS 700 a month."

The campaign, financed by public money, has drawn no small amount of criticism.

"Too bad that these millions aren't being invested in more appropriate ways," said Labor Party chairwoman Shelly Yacimovich. Her party stated, "It's ironic and cruel that on a day when the news states that 16,000 families have been thrown out of work, the Netanyahu government presents these happy, carefree family portraits. The government is the public's servant, and not a company buying advertising space in order to improve its reputation. Netanyahu knows well that Israel's citizens are far from the ideal presented in the ads."

The social-justice movement slammed the ads on Facebook, and some commenters mocked the campaign. "There's nothing wrong with the ads," said a woman named Yael Zilberman, commenting on the Greenberg family, which was photographed in front of a large dollhouse. "The dollhouse is right on target - that's all a young couple can buy."