Elections took a backseat in the Israeli news cycle this week, as rain and snow pounded the country’s center, flooding streets, highways, railways and malls.
But there was one election story that got Israelis excited: campaign ads.
That’s right. In Israel, two weeks before the election, campaign ads are exciting.
Unlike the typical U.S. campaign, where ads bombard viewers for months before Election Day, Israeli ads begin only two weeks before the balloting. And instead of appearing throughout the day, the ads run only during specified blocks of time on each network channel, one after the other. So at 6 p.m. last night on Israel’s Channel 10, for example, viewers could catch – within the span of a few minutes – ads for the right-wing Likud; the far-left, communist Hadash; the Sephardic Orthodox Shas; and the Green Leaf Party, which advocates marijuana legalization and libertarian principles.
Although the Israeli campaign isn’t the billion-dollar operation that the American race has become, money still plays a small role: Ads for Likud, the second-largest party in the current Knesset, ran more often than ads for the Economy Party, the Social Justice Party or the Pirate Party.
But in Israel, everyone gets some airtime. So here’s a look at some of Israel’s more colorful ads: the positive, the negative and, of course, the controversial.
“Maimonides would vote for Amsalem.” That’s the bold claim of Am Shalem, a moderate Sephardic party led by Rabbi Haim Amsalem that urges Israel’s full-time yeshiva students to join Israel’s universal military conscription and go to work. The party is an alternative to Shas, which opposes mandating army service for yeshiva students.
The ad starts with a quote from Maimonides, the twelfth-century author of the Mishna Torah, a Halachic code. Maimonides writes: “Anyone who studies Torah and doesn’t work… desecrates God’s name [and] denigrates the Torah…” It ends by declaring Maimonides’s (hypothetical) choice in the 2013 elections.
One of the most controversial ads of this cycle, though, comes from the party to Am Shalem’s right: Shas. The ad focuses on Shas’s supporting a stringent, Orthodox conversion process for any Israeli who wants to convert to Judaism.
Viewers see a bride and groom, about to be married, with a fax machine between them. The bride, in a heavy Russian accent, says that the machine was a present from Yisrael Beiteinu, a secularist party with a large Russian immigrant contingency. All she has to do, she explains, is dial *CONVERSION and she’ll receive a certified Jewish conversion — by fax. The ad ends with the groom exclaiming, “You’re not Jewish?” and the bride answering, “Now I am!”
Critics have admonished Shas for mocking Israel’s Russian population, many of whom are not Jewish by Orthodox standards.
The ad most familiar to Americans, though, may be that of Hatnua, a center-left party focused on the peace process. The ad uses the tested American formula of showing opponents in black-and-white, with ominous music in the background (in this case a dark version of Hatikvah, the Israeli national anthem), as they make promises they haven’t fulfilled. The ad then switches to a lighter version of Hatikvah as it shows Hatnua leader Tzipi Livni meeting supporters, speaking and smiling.
Likud- Yisrael Beiteinu
The current ruling party, Likud, which is also expected to win the election, used its spot to highlight its achievements during the past four years: a growing economy, a security fence on Israel’s southern border and an improvement in Israel’s schools.
The ad has gotten Likud into trouble, though. It shows a teacher checking multiplication equations on a chalkboard but, alas, two of them are wrong. The board shows that 7 times 8 is 49, and 6 times 3 is 20. It is possible, however, that the teacher was correcting the mistakes.
Likud has merged lists with Yisrael Beiteinu in this election, but Yisrael Beiteinu shows up only briefly, possibly because its leader, Avigdor Lieberman, has been indicted.
Another controversial ad came from the far-right Otzma L’Yisrael, which is running on a platform of forcing delinquent Arab Israelis to pay their taxes — itself a controversial message. The second half of the ad shows the two party leaders, Aryeh Eldad and Michael Ben-Ari (who are not Arabs) speaking in Arabic about the importance of fulfilling one’s duties to the state — all while drinking from a finjan, a traditional Arab coffee pot.
Israel’s Central Elections Committee has asked the party to remove that segment from the ad.