JERUSALEM (Oct. 10)
Israel’s election campaign began last week as a low-key, dignified appeal to the electorate. It then slid rapidly downhill into lunges for the jugular.
Labor and Likud first mounted their campaigns on radio and television by projecting themselves as moderate, responsible and statesmanlike.
Each party portrayed its leader — Premier Yitzhak Shamir of Likud and Foreign Minister Shimon Peres of Labor — as a thoughtful, temperate man.
Labor dwelt on its success — and Likud’s failure — to extricate the Israel Defense Force from the unpopular war in Lebanon.
Both parties claimed credit for beating down inflation, and both avoided insults and invectives.
Television viewers assumed that Likud campaign manager Moshe Arens had decided to pursue a moderate policy in defiance of the party’s firebrands, who were crying for blood.
They were wrong.
Last Wednesday night, Likud commercials showed provocative footage of Arab rioters waving Palestinian flags, spliced with film clips of a gun-toting Yasir Arafat and close-ups of Shimon Peres.
The unsubtle message was that Peres in power would lead to a Palestinian state and the destruction of Israel.
Defense Minister Yitzhak Rabin appeared for the Labor Party, refuting Likud charges that Labor wanted to return Israel to its pre-1967 borders.
Rabin pointed out that he was chief of staff during the Six-Day War, and was well qualified to say that no Labor government would again allow Israel’s population centers to come within close range of enemy forces.
Both parties trotted out their complements of reserve generals to support their theses.
Former Chief of Military Intelligence Yehoshua Saguy insisted, for Likud, that Israel cannot afford to withdraw from the West Bank.
Avigdor Ben-Gal, former commander of the northern front, appeared on behalf of Labor saying that Israel should “exploit its military victories to make peace.”
This was followed by an exposition of Labor’s defense platform. Its strategy calls for deploying troops along the border with Jordan, but withdrawing them from Arab towns in the West Bank and total demilitarization there.
SCRUTINIZED BY COURT
In the economic sphere, Labor claimed it beat inflation. Likud focused on Finance Minister Moshe Nissim’s stand against the trade unions’ inflationary demands.
“Labor cannot run a free economy.” he claimed.
Likud grew ever more acerbic in radio broadcasts last Wednesday.
It portrayed Peres as a vacillating leader whose own friends say he “doesn’t know what he is doing.”
Each party studies the other’s propaganda and counters it with speedily produced videotapes All broadcast material must pass the scrutiny of High Court Justice Eliezer Goldberg, who is chairman of the Central Election Committee.
New parties are allocated only 10 minutes of air time apiece, and are saving their precious time to nearer Election Day, which is Nov. 1.
The ultranationalist Tehiya party’s television commercial opened with a pastoral view of the West Bank landscape, suddenly screened by the wire grid that settlers put on the windows of their cars as protection from Palestinian rockthrowers.
The dovish Citizens Rights Movement and the Shinui Party juxtaposed Israel’s declaration of independence with their perception of the perversion of the spirit in Israel today.
The National Religious Party, worried by the emergence of a new moderate religious party, Meimad, is trying to woo voters seeking a traditional life.
Former Sephardic Chief Rabbi Ovadia Yosef is promising a heavenly blessing for everyone who votes for the ultra-Orthodox Shas party.