Israel Election update: Campaign themes

This week’s Israeli election campaign update will pause to take stock of the issues the various political parties have chosen to campaign on as the April 9 Election Day approaches and review the slogans and messages they have brought to the voters. To this end, we will look at some of the posters and campaign videos that have been recently released and place them in the context of the overall party strategies.

What is clear from this overview is that the way many parties have been campaigning so far has often focussed on strategic and tactical messaging and carving out electoral niches that can be quite far removed from their detailed party platforms.

All this context – how each party is selling itself to the Israeli public – with the exception of a few stories in the Israeli English language press, has been overlooked thus far in the international media. That deprives outside observers of a better understanding of the real arguments being presented to Israeli voters to convince them to vote for one party over another.

Videos, Posters and Social Media 

Predictably, the two largest polling parties, Blue and White and Likud, have mostly come out with campaign materials attacking each other, in an attempt to win by a convincing margin and become the party President Ruby Rivlin chooses after the election to get the first chance at building a coalition.

I’ll get to that sparring shortly, but start for a change with a look at a few smaller parties that are struggling to improve their lot and break out of the single digits in projected Knesset seats. This election is unusual in that there are so many parties that are polling under 10 seats and could even fail to break the threshold for entering the Knesset at all, so the fight at the bottom of the ladder is quite fierce.

In this update, I’ll be examining among the smaller parties, in order of no particular significance: Labor, the Union of Right-Wing Parties, Meretz, the New Right, Shas, and Kulanu. Out of the interests of space, all other small parties will be dealt with in a future blog.

I will also be looking at some of the election videos and media from the two currently largest-polling parties, Blue and White and the Likud.

LABOR

Slogan: Returning to the path, returning to Labor 

Avi Gabbay’s Labor party, facing dire polls that suggest Labor’s on course for its worst electoral performance in history, is clearly trying to claw back ground with the party’s newest campaign videos that came out this week. Interestingly, Gabbay is barely seen on the videos and not heard at all. Instead, Labor focuses on hammering Likud’s weaknesses – mainly its tendency to stick to the status quo when it comes to the Palestinian issue.

Translation: “Most Israel’s want to live in a Jewish state, democratic and secure, with defined borders and a strong army. But with the Likud, everything is the opposite. The Likud endangers Israel and moves us closer every day to the annexation of three million Palestinians. Only we will do exactly the opposite. We will advance a peace plan to separate from the Palestinians on the basis of the Two-State solution that will preserve Israel as Jewish and democratic. Separation from the Palestinians – that’s our way for change. Returning to the path, returning to Labor.”

Labor has also released a video attacking the Likud on problems with the public health system.

Translation: “Most Israelis want to know that there is someone to look after their health. But with the Likud, everything is the opposite. They neglected the public health system and you’re waiting hours in admission in order to receive a bed in a room. You have to wait weeks to see a doctor, and months for an operation. Only we will do exactly the opposite. We will apply a program ‘Health for Israel’, restore investment in public health, add beds and doctors, open health centres in the periphery and shorten the lines. That’s our way for change. Returning to the path, returning to Labor.”

As for Labor’s plan of attack against the Blue and White party, Labor is making an effort to woo back centre-left voters who have defected to Blue and White, by using right-leaning statements by Blue and White politicians against them.

Judging from its videos so far, Labor appears to be angling for modest but steady gains through direct engagement with issues and winning back people who voted for them in the last election. They don’t appear to have much confidence in their leader Gabbay as a drawcard and have kept him out of the spotlight.

UNION OF RIGHT-WING PARTIES

Slogan: We’re committed to more.

This party was formed at the last minute through a merger with Uri Ariel’s Jewish Home (“Bayit Hayehudi”), Bezalel Smotrich’s National Union and Michael Ben-Ari’s Jewish Power (“Otzma Yehudi”) parties, borne out of fear that no single party out of the three could safely make it into the Knesset alone.

Being so newly merged, there hasn’t been much new material from the united party, but they did issue a short video this week (written words put to music, no talking) to put out there what they believe they stand for.

Translation: “We’re committed to you, We’re committed to the land of Israel. We’re committed to security. We’re committed to justice. We’re committed to the rightist bloc. We’re committed to our soldiers. We’re committed to a decisive outcome. We are committed to the love of Israel. We are committed to Shabbat, to family, to nation, to earning, to unity, to fairness, to justice, to law, to camaraderie, to settlements. We are committed to the nation of Israel. We are committed to the land of Israel. We are committed to the periphery. We are committed to Jews. We are committed to spiritual redemption. We are committed to Jewish rights. We are committed to more.”

Jewish Power (“Otzma Yehudit”) campaign slogan: Returning power to the IDF

Regarding the controversial Jewish Power faction – with leaders who have in the past espoused racist views about Arabs in Israel – what’s interesting is that the party’s chosen campaign slogan is “Returning the power to the IDF”. So, the party’s focus in attracting voters has not relied upon classical Kahanist racist tropes but on the more popular idea of empowering the IDF to use less restraint against Hamas and Palestinian rioters as a means of deterrence. That said, I noticed Islamophobic cartoons on their Facebook page, and needless to say, some outrageously offensive comments on their posts as well.

MERETZ

Slogan: Left? Clearly, it’s Meretz

Labor, as pointed out above, is quick to point out evidence that helps it allege the Blue and White party is right-wing, it has been reticent about using the term “Left” to describe itself.

Not so Meretz, which is happy to claim the mantle of champion of the “Left” for itself. And this is driven home in its campaign videos, such as the following well-communicated video by party leader Tamar Zandberg. At one minute, it’s twice as long as the other videos I’ve posted here, so I’ll summarise. Beginning with an introduction “We’re Left. Left is a side,” Zandberg essentially rattles off a laundry list of issues that Meretz has taken a principled stand on, from social justice, to peace based on the removal of settlements as opposed to annexation and friction, to freedom, equality, against domestic violence, gay rights, separation of religion and state, marriage equality, ensuring the rights of Israel’s Arab minority. Zandberg concludes, “In short, either you are right-wing, or you’re Meretz”.

THE NEW RIGHT

Slogan: JewishIsraeliRightWing [no spaces]

Naftali Bennett and Ayelet Shaked’s freshly created New Right party is still finding its footing on social media but there are a couple of issues that they have run with so far.

In a gamble that the saga of IDF soldier Elor Azaria – who was sentenced in 2017 for killing a Palestinian terrorist after he had been injured – still weighs on voters minds, Bennett issued a video of a previous statement he had made as a government minister where he said “A soldier who is sent out as our emissary in order to protect us, even if he makes mistakes, is not a murderer. Attack me, I’ll deal with it. But back up our soldiers. Those soldiers protect us. Now the time has come for us, the leaders of the State of Israel, to protect them.”

Bennett has also come out recently calling on the Trump Administration to release details of its expected “Deal of the Century” to the Israeli public so that it can be addressed in the election.

SHAS

Slogan: Bibi needs a strong “Lion” [Shas leader Aryeh (Heb.: Lion) Deri]

Shas is an interesting case. It has basically decided to lure Sephardic Likud voters to give their vote to Shas by promising to be a loyal coalition partner to Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu, based on the fact that they were the only coalition party that did not attack Netanyahu in the months leading up to the election. It has also been producing materials using the image of the late Shas spiritual leader Ovadia Yosef to remind traditional voters of a beloved figure in their movement.

Bibi needs a strong Lion [“Aryeh” Deri]
KULANU (“All of us)

Slogan: A sane Right

Kulanu leader Moshe Kahlon appears on posters, billboards and videos with the late Prime Minister and statesman Menachem Begin. His goal has been to associate his party, an offshoot of Likud, as a party more in tune with the Likud’s original values as espoused by Begin, especially in terms of looking out for the needs of the lower classes.

It’s a curious move and it’s worth noting that, as mentioned earlier, Yair Lapid had been quoted by Labor as saying that the Blue and White party is really like the old Likud (one can assume he is referring to the original bloc formed under Begin). The idea that the Likud has veered from its roots is clearly a popular one being promoted by those wishing to lure away Likud voters, as Blue and White (and to a far less successful degree, Kulanu) have been trying to do.

Here, in a video that is visually presented in such a way to be understood even without knowledge of Hebrew, Kahlon links himself to Begin.

THE BIG PARTIES

BLUE AND WHITE

Slogan: Israel, before everything. 

The merger of Benny Gantz’ party Resilience for Israel (“Hosen L’Israel) and Yair Lapid’s There is a Future (“Yesh Atid”) to create the Blue and White party was not seamless and has created really two leaders campaigning together but often completely independently of one another.

In this video released this week on Lapid’s YouTube channel, Lapid alone stands in front of a pile of taxpayer money he says the Likud has squandered on things like political hush money and the Prime Minister’s jet. Lapid then takes the money back for the people and puts it in boxes for worthwhile projects for the public benefit. Punchline: “The politicians are taking the money for themselves. Blue and White will return it to you.”

But let’s talk real attack ads. This short one posted on Facebook by Benny Gantz, reads as follows: “You chose Bibi? You got (Otzma Yehudit’s Michael) Ben-Ari. You got Kahane. On April 9, we stop the madness. We choose Blue and White.”

השותף החדש של נתניהו. כהניסט.

השותף החדש של נתניהו. כהניסט.

Posted by ‎בני גנץ – Benny Gantz‎ on Wednesday, 6 March 2019

That is not to say all of Blue and White’s ads are negative. Far from it. They released a powerfully positive video for International Woman’s Day featuring the women of the Blue and White party talking up the empowerment of women.

את יכולה לעשות הכל. יום האישה. כחול לבן.

את יכולה לעשות הכל.יום האישה. כחול לבן.

Posted by ‎בני גנץ – Benny Gantz‎ on Thursday, 7 March 2019

Another video calls attention to the 117 years of combined service by the three former IDF Chiefs of Staff who are now leaders of the Blue and White party: Benny Gantz, Moshe Ya’alon and Gabi Ashkenazi.

למי עוד יש 117 שנות ותק ביטחוני?

למי עוד יש 117 שנות ותק ביטחוני?

Posted by ‎בני גנץ – Benny Gantz‎ on Wednesday, 6 March 2019

LIKUD

Slogan: Netanyahu. Right-wing. Strong.

Attack ad slogan: Lapid and Gantz. Left-wing. Weak.

The Likud hasn’t invested too much in campaign videos so far. Oh, it has a lot of social media presence and video clips of various kinds but not too much in the way of polished official campaign videos – yet.

Rather, Likud has been placing their efforts on producing very short attack ads – a social-media savvy strategy that is aimed at making the best impact given the notoriously short attention span of social media users.

Likud was quick to come out with a video lampooning Yair Lapid’s “Mountain of cash” campaign ad, by calling attention to the mistakes Lapid had made on economic issues in the past, and even a video grab by Lapid where he admits to “know nothing about economics” and ends with a slogan that is the antithesis of Netanyahu’s: “Lapid and Gantz. Left-wing. Weak.”

יאיר לפיד היה שר האוצר הכושל ביותר בתולדות ישראל. רק ליכוד גדול ימנע ממשלת שמאל.

Posted by ‎מפלגת הליכוד‎ on Wednesday, 6 March 2019

 

Another attack ad goes after Gantz: “The last time we voted for a general from the Left… [Ehud Barak clip saying “Dawn of a new day.”] We got an intifada. We can’t make that mistake again. Lapid and Gantz are building a left-wing government with the Arab parties. Lapid and Gantz. Left-wing. Weak.”

לפיד וגנץ יקימו ממשלת שמאל עם המפלגות הערביות

בפעם האחרונה שבחרו גנרל מהשמאל – קיבלנו אינתיפאדה. אסור לחזור על הטעות.

Posted by ‎מפלגת הליכוד‎ on Tuesday, 26 February 2019

The Likud’s Facebook team also did produce a rushed video to defend Netanyahu against the legal campaign against him. The punchline says it all: “The Investigation of Netanyahu = an attempt at political assassination.”

השמאל לוחץ על היועמ"ש כדי להפיל את הימין

השמאל לוחץ על היועמ"ש כדי להפיל את הימין.

Posted by ‎מפלגת הליכוד‎ on Wednesday, 27 February 2019

This blog will be followed up next week with a look into the campaigns of a number of other parties in the Knesset race.