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Special to the JTA Unique ‘knesset 9′ Exhibition

The photographs of Israeli political personalities as prominent as Premier Menachem Begin and Labor Alignment leader Shimon Peres, along with controversial figures such as Rabbi Meir Kahane, founder of the Jewish Defense League, and Uri Avneri, editor of Haalom Hazeh and a maverick on Israel’s political map, greet visitors these days as they enter the august hall of the Widener Library at Harvard University.

These photographs are part of a unique exhibition on display through November titled “Knesset 9.” It features posters, broadsides, and leaflets documenting in vivid fashion and with more than a touch of humor the election campaign for the Ninth Knesset which was held last May. The exhibition, which opened this week, was organized and is being presented by the Harvard Judaica Collection. Its impact is instantaneous and pervasive.

Viewing the 16 display cases at the library, a visitor can come to grips with the serious issues of the election campaign, its vicious as well as vigorous style and, in retrospect, its irony. Moshe Dayan, now the Foreign Minister in the Likud government is featured on a big poster urging the voters to support his party, Labor, from which he bolted after the election.

Another poster shows Gideon Hausner describing him as the head of the Independent Liberal Party which won only one seat in the election, making the viewer wonder what happened to the “body” of the party, considering that only its “head” was elected.

NOT FOUND ANYWHERE ELSE

Dr. Charles Berlin, head of the Judaica Department of Harvard University who originated the idea of the exhibition, said in an interview with the Jewish Telegraphic Agency that the uniqueness of the show is that it is limited to ephemera (posters, broadsides, leaflets), “material which never survives beyond its immediate use.”

Berlin said that he started the “impossible task” of collecting the material for the exhibition last fall, when the Israeli election campaign to the Ninth Knesset had started. Through friends and associates in Israel, Berlin was able to get hundreds of election items which cannot now be found in any other place in the world, including Israel.

“The election items were intended to deliver a message, to satisfy an immediate need,” Berlin explained, “and you get, therefore, a unique perspective of the election which you cannot get from books (written after the election) or other channels. You don’t get the same flavor.”

The exhibition was organized with strict academic objectivity, with the guiding rule that each of the 22 parties running for election be represented. “Everybody is represented in the exhibition to the extent that they published materials and that the materials were available to us, “Berlin said. Accordingly, the big parties, the Likud, the Labor Alignment, the Democratic Movement for Change (DMC) and the National Religious Party, are given one display case each.

The only “deviation” from the academic rule was an allocation of extra space to Likud, featuring Begin as “Our Next Premier.” “We felt the Likud deserved additional space, since they won the election,” said Berlin.

According to Berlin, the “Hofesh Panterim”-a splinter group of the Black Panthers-issued the least amount of material, and therefore is represented in the show only by its voting ticket.

BASIS FOR CHOOSING MATERIAL

From the hundreds of items available, 200 items were culled out. “We chose materials that reflect the views of the parties on a whole range of issues,” Berlin noted, adding: “We gave all parties the opportunity to represent themselves in their own language. This is a ‘mini course’ in Israeli politics.”

One of the display cases depicts the Women’s List (NES) and Kahane’s “Kach” Party. Although both failed to gain any seats in the Knesset, Berlin said, they were given a relatively big space because of the special interest they have for the American viewer. Most of the items are written in Hebrew, with only one poster in Arabic (by Labor’s affiliated Arab List) and few documents in other languages, showing the effects of almost all Israeli parties to profit from ethnic groups within Israeli society.

Berlin pointed out that no commentary or explanation was attached to the items displayed apart from an English translation of the Hebrew text. The Jewish Telegraphic Agency Daily Bulletin is the only non-Israeli, non-election item displayed in the exhibition, reporting on the election results. According to Berlin, the exhibition arouses interest even in people who are not close to Israeli affairs because it is “piquant and interesting,” per se.

Gad Yaacobi, Labor MK who was transport Minister in the previous government, visited the exhibition with this reporter. As a politician who participated in the election campaign that resulted in his party’s defeat, Yaacobi expressed amazement and laughed throughout the tour. “It is amazing,” he said, smiling, when he saw a poster of Dayan beseeching the electorate to vote for the Labor Party. When he saw a poster of Ariel Sharon with the slogan “Give Arik Your Hand,” Yaacobi remarked: “But he got only two (Knesset) seats.” When he confronted the slogan of Shmuel Flatto-Sharon, “The Lone Man to the Knesset,” he said jocularly: “Did you hear of the current joke in Israel that says that in the next election Shimon Peres will adopt the same slogan?”

Berlin said he hoped the exhibition will be shown in other cities in the United States, a possibility which is not feasible at the moment because of lack of funds. At Harvard University itself many have already visited the exhibition, especially since the Harvard Gazette had written about it and printed three posters from the show.

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