Must See TV? / Does Anyone Care About Election Ads?

When MK Yitzhak Levy last year proposed legislation, which was enacted in March 2008, to reduce the amount of state-funded election campaign spots on television and radio, he said: "We have become a mockery in the matter of election spots. The public does not watch them and the ratings are very low."

In any case, beginning tomorrow, the parties' PR broadcasts will go on the air and will now be limited due to the new law to just over seven minutes each. Viewers can see them at 6 P.M. on Channel 10, or at 11:15 P.M. on Channel 2; those who want to see them at prime time can do so on Channel 1, at 10:15 P.M.

Gone are the days when family and friends would gather around the TV set, waiting eagerly for the campaign broadcasts, which always seemed to include lots of baby-kissing, tractors plowing fertile fields, students on lawns and aerial views of Israel's landscapes.

In 1977, one of the most iconic spots of all time was broadcast, showing Shmuel Flatto-Sharon asking viewers, in heavily French-accented and slightly imperfect Hebrew: "What did you do for country?" In 1981, the country went into a tumult when comedian Sefi Rivlin took part in a Likud spot, imitating Shimon Peres. Rivlin also appeared in the Likud's televised broadcast in 1984, but by then Labor had also hired its own entertainers to promote its candidates: the Gashash Hahiver comic trio.

In 1988, one of the most successful jingles belonged to Likud, which featured a catchy rhyme in Hebrew that translates roughly as: "I'll give my vote to Likud, because only the Likud can," heard against the backdrop of the country's landscapes at their most attractive.

That same year the opening line of a broadcast on behalf of the Tarshish party was remembered longer than the party itself was, since it did not make it into the Knesset: "Youth, youth, youth!"

Also memorable, in 1992, was Labor's slogan "Israel is waiting for Rabin," which for the first time placed an individual rather than a party in the limelight.

The parties' PR spots in 1996 will be remembered mainly for the one in which Benny Begin shouted: "Vote Netanyahu and Mahal, Mahal and Netanyahu" - refering to the Likud leader and the acrostic formed by the letters on Likud's ballot. In 1999 it was the mainly Russian immigrant party Yisrael B'Aliyah that won fame with its slogan in Russian "nash kontrol" ("our control"), calling for an end to ultra-Orthodox hegemony at the Interior Ministry.

In the campaigns since 2000, it seems that none of the spots caught the public's imagination; there was one featuring Ariel Sharon and the sheep at his ranch, but the rest of the candidates continued to hug babies and denigrate the competition. The proof was in the TV ratings, which in the last election plummeted to a mere 13 percent.