JERUSALEM (Dec. 30)
Israel’s election day is less than a month away, and signs of the campaign are beginning to emerge.
On buses and lampposts, and even strung between traffic lights, campaign posters and banners can be seen almost anywhere.
“The nation wants Sharon.” So reads one giant blue-and-white, flag-like ad splashed across the sides of the green-and-white Egged buses and posted inside bus stops.
The red period at the end of the sentence is meant to show that incumbent Prime Minister Ariel Sharon is still popular, despite a continuing security situation and worsening recession.
Avigdor Lieberman, the leader of the hawkish Israel Our Home Party, makes an appeal to voters who are to the right of Sharon: “With Lieberman, a nation without Palestinians.”
It is more common to see campaign posters for Sharon or Lieberman in Jerusalem than in Tel Aviv, the country’s secular center, where voters generally lean toward the left.
On the streets outside Jerusalem’s government center — where the Knesset building is surrounded by the ministries, the Bank of Israel and the Supreme Court — a corrugated tin wall enclosing a parking lot under construction is covered with pirate posters declaring that Labor Party leader Amram “Mitzna and Sharon are giving the Palestinians a state,” making it “forbidden to give them a mandate.”
It is unusual to see Likud and Labor lumped together, particularly when the two largest parties are engaged in a head-on battle for the nation’s leadership.
But this isn’t an ordinary election: Many voters don’t believe any particular party has a solution to the conflict with the Palestinians.
What they are seeking, however, are answers to some of the country’s other pressing problems.
With the reigning Likud Party facing allegations of corruption in its November primaries, and security and economic issues weighing heavily on many voters, the election campaign will include the traditional fight between left and right, and will emphasize which of the smaller parties are “clean,” said Sam Lehman-Wilzig, an expert on campaign tactics and a professor at Bar Ilan University.
“You can expect the entire country to be plastered not just with billboard ads, but with smaller posters and banners and pirate notices,” he said. “Everyone’s going to be focusing on the corruption business, so the bullets of propaganda will be flying all over and not just between the great divide of right and left.”
Evidence of this is already out there.
In Tel Aviv, the faces of Sharon, Mitzna, fervently Orthodox Shas Party leader Eli Yishai and secular Shinui Party chair Tommy Lapid peer down at drivers from a billboard above an exit from the Ayalon Highway. Added to each of their faces is the well-known handlebar mustache worn by the leader of the workers rights One Nation Party, Amir Peretz.
“Suddenly everyone has become Amir Peretz,” the poster says about the man who, as head of the Histadrut Labor Union, fights for the rights of Israel’s public employees.
Yishai, however, apparently did not want to “become” Peretz: The Shas leader asked the Central Election Committee for a restraining order preventing One Nation from distributing the campaign poster.
So far, he hasn’t succeeded. But the ad has certainly caught peoples’ attention.
In order to appeal to a broader spectrum of voters, One Nation also opened a new campaign to target English-speaking voters, saying it will fight parts of the new tax reform law that could harm Western immigrants. It also is vowing to get new immigrants stipends for their disabled children, and to press the government to give pensions and medical insurance to elderly retirees who move to Israel.
Yisrael Ba’Aliyah, the immigrant rights party headed by Natan Sharansky, also reached out to the English-speaking community on the tax reform. It also is appealing to right-wing voters disillusioned with the charges of corruption among Likud officials.
The party’s slogan is: “Sharansky: Right. Sane. Clean.”
The secular and left-leaning Shinui Party also is playing up its clean image. The party, whose name means ‘change,’ has the slogan, “For a change, a straight party.”
Polls currently show Shinui becoming the third largest party, after Likud and Labor.
Back in Tel Aviv, the secular parties are fighting hard for left-leaning voters. As commuters sit in traffic each night, their gaze is drawn to one of the electronic billboards overlooking the road, posted with the Meretz Party’s trademark green-and-white logo.
“We have the energy to do,” reads the billboard. “Less income gap — separation of religion and state.”
It’s hard to find Meretz posters in Jerusalem’s Mahane Yehuda market, where the scores of notices hastily posted on walls and stands mirror the right-wing opinions of many vendors, who like to hawk politics along with their eggplants, tomatoes and cucumbers.
But with just 30 days to go before the elections, most of the shoppers and proprietors on one Sunday afternoon were more concerned with the price of onions than with who they’ll vote for on Jan. 28.
“Elections? Feh!” said Chaim, who was gathering a kilo of onions as part of his weekly shopping. “You can’t tell one politician from the other.”
“It’s hard to get worked up when it’s the third election in, what, three years?” another shopper said. “They’re all the same anyway.”
And then there’s another option, proposed by Yediot Achronot writer Ra’anan Shaked: Since it seems fairly clear that Sharon will be re-elected, why not just vote for Tony Soprano, the lead character from the TV show “The Sopranos.”
“I choose Tony Soprano to be Israel’s prime minister for one reason: Because most of the public won’t feel the difference,” Shaked wrote.