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Peace Missing in Israeli Campaign Ads

Mazal Mualem reports on the first night of campaign election ads and observes slogans, a sharp right turn and the absence of "peace."
Former centrist Israeli Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni gestures during a news conference in Tel Aviv November 27, 2012. Livni announced on Tuesday she would challenge Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu in a Jan. 22 election by running for office as head of a new political party she vowed would "fight for peace."    REUTERS/Nir Elias (ISRAEL - Tags: POLITICS ELECTIONS)

1996 Elections, Campaign Commercials for the 14th Knesset. Several months after [former Prime Minister Yitzhak] Rabin’s assassination, Israel is still stunned, but it seems that cosmic optimism radiates from the screens: furrowed fields, white doves, children’s laughter, Rabin- Clinton-Hussein on the White House lawns — and for dessert, prime-minister candidate Shimon Peres (today’s president) kisses small children. In the background, the “Israel Chooses Peace” jingle plays.

Even the Likud under Benjamin Netanyahu (on his way to his first term of office), who went for the intimidating broadcast “Peres will divide Jerusalem” featuring a picture of [late PA President Yasser] Arafat and the sound of glass breaking, took care to insert the word “peace.” It is hard to believe but the Likud slogan then was, “Netanyahu — making a secure peace.” Then, peace was the winning card. Everyone used it.

2013 Elections, Campaign Commercials for the 19th Knesset. On the first day of broadcasts, the trend is clear: No one talks about peace any longer. On the contrary, it seems that the word drives away voters. In effect, out of an hour and a quarter of broadcasts, the word “peace” is barely heard once. This rare occurrence took place in one of the campaign commercials of the Hatenua (Movement) party headed by Tzipi Livni, and even then it was half-hearted.

The Labor party, which has been occupied for months in trying to hide Rabin’s legacy, even avoided using the phrase “political process,” and preferred giving us a lot of [party leader] Shelly Yachimovich, talking about feminism and a just society.

Once upon a time, the word “shalom” (peace) went well with ”security.” Now “shalom” has gone, and security remains. Someone in Likud-Beiteinu decided to flood us with countless conjunctions and grammatical inflections on the [Hebrew] root for “strong.” That “someone” is none other than our old buddy, American consultant Arthur Finkelstein. Under his direction, no room for doubt remains regarding who is the strong leader here, and who will strengthen him. Just like in the ‘96 elections mantra “Peres will divide Jerusalem” chalked up under his name, today’s Finkelstein forces us to hear descriptions about Netanyahu’s strength, the extent to which he and [former Foreign Minister Avigdor] Liberman are a strong combination for Israel. This way, if we strengthen Netanyahu then Israel is also strengthened, and together we will strengthen our security with God’s help.

Finkelstein is an expert in brain-washing. Nevertheless, what was correct for those elections 17 years ago, when campaign commercials were still a kind of “gather-round-the-campfire” phenomenon, almost on the same level as the Eurovision [song competition], is not correct now. (Let’s not even mention the years of the merry 1980s, when [comedian] Sefi Rivlin and the Hagashash Hachiver [mythological comedy band] starred opposite one another on behalf of the Likud and Labor, respectively.) Today, the broadcasts barely interest those who worked on producing them behind the scenes, and the first day they are broadcasted is more or less also the last day that they will receive significant media coverage — according to Finkelstein.

Nevertheless, after more than an hour of watching television, we can still learn a few things. First of all: that the broadcasts are, in effect, the mirror image of this strange election campaign that has only one candidate for prime minister. It does not feature a struggle between two large parties representing two blocs, but intra-bloc quarrels over isolated mandates. [Labor leader Shelly] Yachimovich and [Yesh Atid leader Yair] Lapid do not even try to contend for the throne.

Tzipi Livni, by contrast, is the only one who talks about a “changeover,” but she sounds as if she has not woken up from the 2009 election dream — detached from reality, and mainly unreliable. What “changeover” can she be talking about when her number of mandates is [expected to be] in the single digits (seven, according to the last poll), and with those embarrassing quarrels between Livni and her friends in the center-left bloc?

By contrast, Livni’s longtime adversary, Kadima Chairman Shaul Mofaz, has evidently internalized reality. The same person who once ran for head of Kadima under the slogan “Shaul Mofaz, Prime Minister,” now runs for the position of the Defense Minister. Although even that sounds somewhat pretentious under the circumstances, it at least has some realistic basis. Mofaz, whose heart’s desire now is to cross the electoral threshold [as an official party], appeals to our hearts in his broadcasts. Time after time, we become acquainted with the child who immigrated from Iran and reached the position of Chief of Staff. Then a series of important persons testify that Mofaz is the best person for Israel’s security. So why, for God’s sake, asks the broadcaster in simple language, why do we continue to step on him? Because that is the trend of this election campaign, he answers. Kadima’s creative team went all the way with its “desperation broadcast” theme, designed to activate the public’s emotions, and succeeded in stimulating a certain amount of interest.

While the leaders-wanting-peace theme has disappeared from the broadcasts (as aforesaid), a new trend reigns: the strong turn to the Right. It is preferable to speak tough with the world, and if possible — in English. Likud-Beiteinu whipped out Netanyahu’s famous speech to the American Congress about the danger of Iranian nuclearization. Netanyahu promises that a second Holocaust will not take place. The applause immediately follows. Netanyahu and Liberman exchange a manly handshake. On the background, flicker images of [Iranian President] Ahmadinejad, [Hezbollah leader] Nasrallah and [Hamas leader] Khaled Meshaal. The message is clear, but for those who still don’t understand, the announcer concludes: Netanyahu and Liberman are the right combination in the Middle East.

Habayit Hayehudi Chairman Naftali Bennett also stands alone facing the entire world. In an interview with CNN from the Pillar of Defense operation (which adorns one of the broadcasts), Bennett scatters statements in perfect English about our duty to defend ourselves. Bennett is the star of the election campaign even in the Habayit Hayehudi broadcasts. This party, that has been resurrected and drives Netanyahu crazy, succeeds in generating interest. Maybe these are the blue eyes of Ayelet Shaked (the first woman on the list) that star in all the broadcasts, causing the viewer to ask the question: What is a young, pretty, and secular maiden doing in an extreme right-wing religious party?

And there was also the racist, offensive campaign of Shas (that was disqualified the next day), the intimidating trip (in fluent Arabic) of Michael Ben Ari (Otzma Leyisrael, “Strong Israel”), and Lapid’s “Middle Class” speech (Yesh Atid, “There is a Future”).

The truth is that there was not much originality in the first night of election broadcasts for the 19th Knesset. On the other hand, after an hour-plus of viewing, the spectator gets a good impression, in general terms, of the Israeli story of the recent decades: of what we were, and of what was made of us.

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