Major Campaign Calls on Israeli Center-left Leaders to Unite Ahead of Election

'The centrist camp is depressed now. It doesn’t have the team spirit that Likud people have. It’s perplexed and confused,' PR manager says

Billboard calling on Israeli centrist leaders to unite ahead of election, Tel Aviv, January 18, 2019.
Tomer Appelbaum

One billboard featuring the faces of four journalists and erected at a major northen Tel Aviv junction at a cost of only tens of thousands of shekels, was enough for Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to dominate the news over the weekend.

The “They won’t decide” billboard, and several similar ones that identify the message as coming from Likud, will be up for only 10 days, but from Netanyahu’s perspective, even that isn’t necessary. The resonance of the provocative propaganda on the news sites and social networks was the point.

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There was no PR agency behind that billboard. The slogan was born in Netanyahu’s inner campaign circle, which includes public relations expert and Netanyahu family spokesman Ofer Golan; Likud spokesman Yonatan Orich, and the Prime Minister’s Office new media adviser Topaz Luk, with the chief campaigner, Netanyahu himself, monitoring from above.

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But there was another campaign launched over the weekend ahead of Israel's April 9 election, in which far more money was invested – at least 1 million shekels ($271,000) for 100 billboards that will appear in a variety of roadside locations over the next two weeks. Appearing on these posters are Yesh Atid’s Yair Lapid, Hosen L’Yisrael’s Benny Gantz, Labor’s Avi Gabbay, Hatnuah’s Tzipi Livni, former prime minister Ehud Barak, former defense minister Moshe Ya’alon and former military chief Gabi Ashkenazi, over the slogan “Without unity, your vote is lost.”

The initiators of the campaign are a social entrepreneur named Noa Eliasaf-Shoham, Brig. Gen. (res.) Giora Inbar; businessman Ilan Shiloah; Yonatan Ben-Artzi, the grandson of the late prime minister Yitzhak Rabin; and Maj. Gen. (res.) Moshe Kaplinsky. The campaign is being funded by several businesspeople, Shiloah among them.

Behind the slogan is the Reuveni Pridan IPG advertising agency, which has a lot of experience in election campaigns. “There is a very large force – 79.1 percent of the centrist voters – who identify with these leaders and want unity, because they aren’t stupid and they know that only unity will give the center any power,” Udi Pridan told TheMarker.

What is the target audience of this campaign?

“There are several target audiences. One is the seven leaders who appear in the ad. Another audience is their thousand or so associates and advisers who tell each of them what’s worthwhile and what’s not, and who convey to them what’s going on beyond what’s in their own heads. The third audience is the potential 1.4 million voters. We want them to say to themselves, ‘I was debating between Gabbay and Gantz. If they run together, not only will I vote for them, I will persuade my friend to vote.’ Otherwise they will be dispersed, and some won’t bother to vote because they are frustrated by the multiple options.

“The centrist camp is depressed now. It doesn’t have the team spirit that Likud people have. It’s perplexed and confused. When we did the 'Israel Wants Change' campaign in its time, Ehud Barak won [the premiership] because the centrist camp had one address.”

Why didn’t you include Orli Levi-Abekasis in the ad?

“Because there’s a feeling about her that she’s right-wing.”

Will you invest more money?

“I hope the campaign will be bigger. The million shekels that were invested are enough to launch the process of billboards, ads and a lot of digital.”

Why don’t you just approach these seven people directly?

“A conversation with Gantz isn’t the same as a campaign that calls for the leaders to unite. The combination of digital media, newspapers and demonstrations near their homes will do it. There were thousands of people joining on the social networks since this morning – people who want to support this move – and we’ll assure a regular presence near the homes of Gantz, Livni, Gabbay and the others.”

Is there really a chance that they’ll overcome their egos and unite?

“I’m almost certain that there will be a merger of some kind. That in the end there will be two spearheads leading the camp. As the managers of this campaign, we didn’t go into the question of who would be better to lead. Let them examine who has the best chance, and he’ll lead.”

File photo: Ilan Shiloah in Tel Aviv, May 15, 2017.
Ofer Vaknin

According to Shiloah, “This is a campaign that came from dozens of frustrated people – not frustrated with Bibi [Netanyahu] but with the leaders who appear in the poster, who instead of joining and building a united political force is each busy with his own ego. If you add up the [projected] seats of Gantz, Lapid and Livni, you already have the same number of seats as Likud.

Why is it so important to change the government?

“The reality is that harm is being done to the rule of law. There’s far-reaching public corruption. There’s unreasonable incitement and divisiveness. This regime has controlled the country since 1977, more than 40 years, except for the short periods of Rabin and Barak as prime minister, and it has become filthy and corrupt.”

If the problem is the corruption allegations against Netanyahu, why didn’t you consider targeting Likud voters with a demand to replace him?

“Likud voters will do as they see fit. Our objective is to make sure that instead of a force that’s divided among contenders with microscopic differences of opinion between them, there will be one force that will succeed in giving expression to its power.”