By Rabbi Dow Marmur.
I had the opportunity today to hang up on both Prime Minister Netanyahu and the likely leader of the Opposition in the next Knesset, Shelly Yachimovitch. No, I wasn’t rude: the calls were pre-recorded. Today, exactly two weeks before the elections, is the official launch of the campaign that allows the parties to approach voters direct.
That’s also how earlier this evening I spent a whole hour watching ads on behalf of most of the 34 parties. Were I to list them, I’d have no room for anything else on this page. Therefore, only these general impressions.
The star of each message was the leader. Netanyahu, speaking on behalf of the hybrid Likud-Yisrael Beiteinu party (according to a commentator, the first of several of his errors; joining forces with Lieberman has already cost him seats) stressed, in addition to what he has done for the country in the last four years, his international reputation (with clips of standing ovations in the US Congress) and the assurance of strength and security that his leadership epitomizes.
Kadima, the largest party in the last Knesset – which this time may not even pass the threshold for a minimum two seats, but with plenty of air time, based on its strength in the last election – featured its leader Shaul Mofaz. It stressed his experience as a former Chief of Staff and Minister of Defense and reminded us that he was nine years old when came to Israel with his family from Iran and what an exemplary husband, father (with two sons as officers) and grandfather he now is.
Shelly Yachimovitch, the leader of Labour, wanted us to know that she’s the child of Holocaust survivors, wife and mother of two children, one of whom is now a soldier.
Like Labour, the ultra-Orthodox parties stressed their social agenda. Their ads had little to say about religion and much about the country’s poor. They appealed explicitly to secular voters by trying to persuade them that those in need get more out of the ultra-Orthodox than out of their opponents, despite their claims to have social agendas.
Language is an issue. Several parties that appeal primarily to Arabs and spoke in Arabic are also looking for Jewish support, and vice versa; hence subtitles in Hebrew for Arabs and Arabic for Jews. There were also many subtitles in Russian. Polls suggest that the merger of the once predominantly Russian Yisrael Beiteinu with Likud has prompted many Russian voters not to vote for the block but for other parties or for none.
In fact, a third of all potential voters polled say that even two weeks before the election, they haven’t made up their minds. This may explain the nature of the ads I saw today: instead of seeking to encourage the faithful, they tended to appeal to the agnostics.
This means, in turn, that the outcome is still very uncertain, even though it’s assumed that the parties on the right will have enough seats to form the next government under Netanyahu, but this may turn out to be more tricky than anticipated.
That also explains the erratic moves by the centre-left: one moment three of them are said to be planning a joint campaign to stop the right, the next they denounce each other as bitter rivals. Today they’ve designated Tzipi Livni as the villain who wants to be both Netanyahu’s opponent and a member of his cabinet.
As even allegedly reliable polls look more like guesswork than science, I ask for forgiveness for bringing contradictory and confusing reports.