Elections for the Short Attention Span…writes Emily Gian

February 27, 2015 by Emily Gian
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The Israeli elections are getting close, and with only three weeks to go before polling, the entire country is in full campaign mode.

Emily Gian

Emily Gian

There has been plenty of analysis about the different parties (of which there are plenty) and of the possible make-up of the next coalition government, particularly given that the two largest parties, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s Likud and the Zionist Camp (Isaac “Buji” Herzog’s Labor and Tzipi Livni’s Hatnuah) have been running neck and neck at the opinion polls.

I thought that, at this point, it might therefore be worthwhile looking at how the respective campaigns of the leading parties are being played out, not through what they are saying in speeches or in the media, but through the way they are projecting their images and their policies in their advertising.

Advertising is naturally a very important aspect of any political campaign, and more so in this age of social media which caters for those with short attention spans. In order for the message to be effective, it needs to be brief and capable of resonating with the “consumer” and lingering in their thoughts for longer than just the present. Sometimes, these ads are humourous whilst at other times, they are plain silly and even insult the intelligence of the voter.

I found an interesting Op-Ed which dealt with the campaign of Menachem Begin, who sat on the Opposition for eight governments and three decades before being elected as Prime Minister in the 1977 elections. The Mapai Party (now Labor) was so impressed by the campaign he ran that it hired his advertising firm for the following election (which it failed to win).

However, while the evidence indicates that a successfully run advertising campaign may not always be the way to win an election, it remains an important element in the game.

Herzog and Livni ran an ad campaign which said “it’s us or him”, referring to the Prime Minister. Netanyahu responded with this inspiring rebuttal – “it’s us or them”. The cynical among the Israelis commented that both of these simplistic slogans hid another message that, “it’s probably going to be us and them after the elections but we can’t put that into a short and sharp slogan that will win your vote”.

They also had billboards positioned around the country which had various messages about the social, security and economic situation with the slogan “only suckers vote for Bibi”. Netanyahu’s response was to show how lacking the other two were in credentials to lead the country.

Firstly, there was advertisement that depicted all of the leaders of the other parties as kids fighting which was immediately banned because it violated campaign regulations barring parties from using children under the age of 15 in ads. Despite the ban, the controversy surrounding it kept him at the forefront. The second was a follow up that portrayed him as the trusty “Bibi-sitter” (a play on “babysitter”), where he also managed to get in a dig along the way at the expense of his opponents.

In a more serious set of videos, the Zionist Camp have attacked Netanyahu’s security credentials, something about which he had always prided himself. Bibi had earlier campaigned that the Zionist Camp did not have a person competent enough to deal with the difficult security situation, so these videos were a challenge to that proposition.

One person and party that has worked hard to win the hearts and minds of the voters, particularly the younger ones through social media, is Naftali Bennett of Habayit Hayehudi, who has created a number of viral videos campaigns filmed in the funky streets of Tel Aviv. Bennett is also one of the few politicians who ensured that his videos have also been subtitled with English, which is good not only for international consumption but for the large population of new immigrants and others that do not have Hebrew as a first language. Yair Lapid of Yesh Atid is also strongly campaigning in English, with events “almost every night” scheduled for English speakers. By their estimation, ‘roughly 170,000 English speakers live in Israel, among them new immigrants, old-timers and children of immigrants born in the country’. Meretz on the other hand has just released a video appealing to women who are still undecided to vote for them.

Will these videos and billboards have a say in the elections? Only time will tell.

In the meantime, the security situation is always on our minds and just a few days ago another so-called “lone wolf” stabbing attack was carried out in Jerusalem. The Israeli victim, Avraham Goldstein was lightly injured and the Palestinian terrorist was subdued, oddly enough, by Jerusalem’s mayor Nir Barkat and his security guard who happened to be passing by when they saw the terrorist with a knife and instinctively ran out of their car to help. Thankfully this is not something one sees very often, and with respect to the councillor in question, is unlikely to occur with the mayor of Glen Eira for instance.

What struck me, yet again, was how the incident was reported in the media. The Age, for example, ran with a Reuters article which managed to tell a straight story until the penultimate paragraph when it disingenuously broke into type with a supposed tally board of victims equating the 11 innocent Israeli victims killed by terrorists with the 12 Palestinians (mostly the attackers themselves or would-be attackers) recently killed by Israeli security forces. It is a nice, neat package but of highly dubious intent. Imagine them doing this with a comparable scoreboard of recent attacks in Paris and Copenhagen with the victims on one side equated with the perpetrators on the other?

And even though the incident occurred outside City Hall in West Jerusalem, the author could not help raising the disputed status of East Jerusalem, possibly trying to add “context”. As if that sort of context in some way justifies terrorist attacks on Israeli citizens going about their day. If we do not find a stabbing attack in London or Washington acceptable then we should not find it acceptable in Jerusalem.

In the last few days, the media has been showing a video of Somali terrorists threatening attacks on shopping centres in the US and the UK, saying, “If just a handful of mujahedeen fighters can bring Kenya to a complete standstill for nearly a week, imagine what a dedicated mujahed in the West could do to America or Jewish owned shopping centres across the world? What if such an attack on the Mall of America in Minnesota or the West Edmonton mall in Canada or in London’s Oxford Street? Or any of the hundred or so of the Jewish owned Westfield shopping centres”. No specific mention of Australia was made but the Westfield Group is an Australian-owned company.

Attacks on shopping centres, cafes and buses are nothing new in Israel, and the world could most likely learn a lot from the way Israelis dealt with these attacks, if they were not so hell bent on boycotting them or creating resolutions against them at the UN and in other international institutions. And then they would learn that innocent Israelis are no more responsible for the attacks on them than those unlucky Australians who happened to be in the wrong café at the wrong time last year on 15 December in Martin’s Place, Sydney.

Unfortunately, there are some in the media who consider their roles as no longer merely to impart the facts but also to run their own ad campaigns promoting one side of the narrative for readers with short attention spans and whose collective intelligence is therefore open for insult.

Emily Gian is the Israel Advocacy Analyst at the Zionist Council of Victoria and a PhD Candidate in Israeli Literature at the University of Melbourne

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