Israel Election 2019: Leaders Harness Fear Factor to Fight Voter Fatigue

Politicians use scare tactics on social media, robocalls and everywhere they can to jar supporters bored by a lackluster campaign to go cast their ballots

Likud and Democratic Union supporters spar in angry confrontation in a Jerusalem marketplace.
Menahem Kahana/AFP

As the clock ticked down to Tuesday’s election, every Israeli political leader was battling at full strength — less against their political opponents than against the election fatigue and indifference rampant across the country — out of worry that their supporters won’t bother going to the polls. (For the latest election polls – click here)

An unprecedented number of Israelis, after their vote less than six months ago ended in deadlock, are so confused, exhausted, frustrated and disgusted that they are saying publicly — and to pollsters — they may not bother voting.

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Fear is the doomsday weapon of choice used by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s Likud party to get his supporters to the polls. Throughout Monday, he did his best to frighten supporters. Nothing was off-limits. Netanyahu spent much of the day appearing live across social media — both on Facebook and Twitter’s Periscope, in what were headlined “emergency broadcasts” appealing to Likud voters — in a panicked tone, to prevent “a left-wing government led by Gantz and Lapid, together with the Arab parties.”

In a more concrete display of the dystopian future that awaited Israelis if they didn’t support him, Netanyahu retweeted a supporter’s video of an imaginary Army Radio report from 2021

“Security Cabinet member Ahmad Tibi has ordered police not to allow Jews to enter the Temple Mount until further notice,” a radio announcer on the video intones, going on to report that after missiles were fired from Qalqilyah in the West Bank at neighboring Kfar Sava and Rosh Ha'ayin,“ Prime Minister Benny Gantz said at a peace conference in Ramallah where he ”called on Israel’s neighboring state, Palestine, to refrain from rocket fire and terror attacks on Israeli buses and “Defense Minister Ehud Barak and Interior Minister Stav Shaffir” indicated their willingness to cede more territory and release Palestinian prisoners in hopes of achieving peace.

Netanyahu warned: “If you don’t vote for Likud tomorrow, this nightmare will become your reality.”

Another video posted by the prime minister shows carefree citizens frolicking and having fun on a vacation — in Israel, Election Day is a day off work — including a couple between the sheets making love as an alarm clock ticks in the background. Finally, a shrill ring informs them that while they’ve been having fun, “The left has taken over.”

Likud ministers echoed their leader's scare tactics in their own media appearances. “Voters have to ask themselves if they want to, once again, see buses exploding on the streets of Tel Aviv,” Culture Minister Miri Regev said on the radio on Monday.

And even before voting began, Likud pre-prepared recorded messages for circulation the next day that Arab voters were turning out in large numbers.

If Likud chose fear as its primary catalyst to inspire voting, Netanyahu’s main rival, Benny Gantz and his Kahol Lavan party, chose to strike a more hopeful tone and inspire voters to get to the polls with a promise of victory, rather than scare them with visions of disaster if they remain on their sofas.

Gantz posted his own imaginary future newscast — predicting peace and security, better health care and social change.

“It’s THIS close,” he urged. “All you have to do is vote.”

For the smaller parties — on the left and right — the primary theme was survival. Both the Democratic Union and Labor-Gesher essentially begged voters to show up and save them from extinction.

“The Democratic Union is in real danger of falling beneath the electoral threshold,” warned former Prime Minister Ehud Barak across his social media platforms, referring to polls suggesting the party may not win enough votes to get a single Knesset seat.

Labor Party leader Amir Peretz announced dramatically that on Election Day, voters would be deciding whether Israelis live “in the nation of Yigal Amir or the nation of Yitzhak Rabin.”

While the right-wing religious parties may not fear sinking below the electoral threshold, their messages featured another kind of existential dread.

The religious right-wing party Yemina released a video showing all the institutions of religious Zionism collapsing as a result of their party receiving too few votes.

Ultra-Orthodox and other religious parties took their disaster messaging a step further, calling on their rank and file to save them from the “anti-Semitic” campaigns of Yisrael Beiteinu and Kahol Lavan calling for a secular coalition without the religious parties. One powerful ultra-Orthodox leader, the top Vishnitz rabbi, was filmed speaking in Yiddish and comparing secular Israeli “destroyers of religion” to Adolf Hitler, and warning that another Holocaust may be afoot.

Their primary adversary, Yisrael Beiteinu’s Avigdor Lieberman, stepped up his scare tactics of fending off what he says will be an ultra-Orthodox-dominated religious state if Netanyahu and his political allies triumph. Lieberman’s Election Eve video says that on Election Day, “the ultra-Orthodox are going to war!” and shows Haredi leaders rallying thousands of followers, urging them to bring others to the polls to “double their power.”

“And you?” the Yisrael Beiteinu video asks — showing beaches full of secular Tel Aviv residents sunning themselves — and warning them once more that “only Lieberman can prevent a halakhic state.”