From Nazis to ISIS: The Vile and Viral Videos of the Israeli Right’s 2015 Election Campaign

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Image from an animated video released by the Samaria Residents Council.Credit: Screen grab

A recently published cartoon video clip horrifically vilifies the Israeli left, personifying it as a greedy, money-grubbing Jewish collaborator providing propaganda for a Nazi European Union figure named "Mr. Sturmer," that ultimately trots off obediently to hang himself when he is no longer of use to his master. It's hard to imagine any feeling stronger than the wave of disgust that this clip instills in a sane, levelheaded Israeli.

But actually stronger than that is the ensuing nausea that comes from learning that the video was produced by the Samaria Resident’s Council, which is supported by public money.

Even in an already-contentious, gloves-off political atmosphere, this vile and viral video served as a bellwether signaling that the 2015 Israeli election campaign is now descending into its lowest point yet, so much so that even those who are no fans of Haaretz or the non-profit groups it targets have condemned its imagery.

Even Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu issued a statement after the video made headlines, saying, “I am stridently against the comparison between organizations or Israeli individuals - from any political stripe - and Nazi Germany, and condemn any use of it for elections.”

A screenshot of Netanyahu's campaign ad, February 14, 2015.

Netanyahu had little choice but to take such a stand. If he hadn’t, comparisons to the wave of incitement that preceded the assassination of late Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin - which included Rabin being portrayed in an SS uniform - would have been forthcoming. Netanyahu has been taken to task for failing to strongly condemn those images back then.

It’s far from coincidence that a wave of videos poured out of the political right over the weekend - the Nazi video being only the most prominent.

With an election exactly a month away, now is the time when citizens of a democracy should have their attention focused squarely on the issues. The problem for the right: most of these issues reflect poorly on Netanyahu’s government. The list extends from the shredding of the strategic relationship with the United States, police revelations of corruption at the highest levels of government, the politicization of the country’s cultural awards in the Israel Prize scandal, continued criticism - from both right and left - of the handling of the Gaza conflict over the summer, the new tension on the northern border, and the ongoing accusations of outrageous abuses of power by Netanyahu and his wife, to general discontent over the cost of living.

And so the trick is to divert the attention of the Israeli media and the public from serious matters at any cost. The proven method of distraction is “bread and circuses” - the ancient Roman concept which the dictionary defines as “the mere satisfaction of the immediate, shallow requirements of a populace” in order to maintain power and control over them.

Bread may be a challenge, as the economy is harder to manipulate at will. But in the age of YouTube, the “circuses” side of the equation - cheap entertainment for the masses - is easier to produce than ever.

What’s the very cheapest way to grab us?

Fear. Hollywood knows that horror movies do the trick: they pull us in by drawing on our deepest fears. Fear is also traditionally the blunt instrument of the Israeli right. The Nazi/EU video went for the jugular when it came to fear - breaking what is taboo even in the Israeli political free-for-all, by invoking the Holocaust.

But that wasn’t the only scary movie of the week. While Hitler and the Nazis are out-of-bounds for Netanyahu and the Likud, exploiting fear of ISIS and accompanying horrors is fair game.

In the same weekend news cycle as the settlers' “Mr. Sturmer” video, came the latest video offering from Likud, a short but powerful piece featuring the classic white pick-up favored by the Islamic State carrying bearded jihadi fighters flying a black ISIS flag. They encounter another driver and ask, “How do we get to Jerusalem, dude?” The response: “Just turn left.” The message at the end features a bullet-ridden screen hammering home the message, “The left will capitulate to terror.”

The one successful show-business alternative to fear when it comes to keeping the public busy is humor. The right has been mining that effectively, as well. The first to tap into the genre was Habayit Hayehudi’s Naftali Bennett, with his “lefty apologist” video hit in December - but Netanyahu followed quickly on his heels with his “Bibi-sitter” videos - parts one and two - in which he is the responsible adult to the left’s helpless children, with a follow-up comedic clip making fun of the left’s silly scandals featuring a hysterical aide running in and out of his office while a calm prime minister attends to important matters.

The latest move in “Bibi-wood” studios strikes a similar theme using a different tactic - an odd semi-reality show in which a well-known TV host of an interior decorating makeover show named Moshik Galamin pays a fanboy visit to the official Prime Minister’s residence in Jerusalem. He excitedly poses for selfies with both Bibi and Sara and takes a tour of the premises (led by Sara, since Bibi had to hurry off to the office to run the country) with an emphasis on peeling paint and cracked lamps, with a strong subtext that the First Couple live a simple life, just like you and me (at least when they are at the official residence, not at their villa in Caesaria or private Jerusalem home) and that all reports of extravagance and waste are manufactured by embittered ex-employees and a biased media.

For all of the sins - and general weirdness - of some videos, the polls point to the fact that the fear-and-funny strategy is a winner. Benjamin Netanyahu and Naftali Bennett are winning the Internet, getting the media play and diverting the conversation from the serious problems facing the country. Where are Netanyahu’s rivals: Lapid and Kahlon and Livni and Herzog? They all appeared to be mired back in 2005 somewhere, depending on parlor meetings, panel discussions, billboards and “old media” to promote their messages, beefed up with the odd Facebook status or tweet.

They may think it is best to remain above the fray and out of the online mud - but as a result they are being pushed out of the conversation, and - if the video-makers get their way - out of the government.

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