Illustration by Lior Zaltzman
“Will you be writing a regret post about the election?”
A few months ago, I wrote about how I was debating whether or not to go home to Israel for the elections. Well, spoiler alert: I didn’t. Like many Israeli friends with families and jobs and New York rents to pay, I did not buy a ticket to Israel.
As the elections drew near, I felt my anticipation mixing with a creeping regret. “This election is important” was the message that echoed all over my social media feeds and the subtext in every phone conversation I had with my family and friends.
For Israelis abroad, this election meant something too. If things were to change for the better, so many of us would so happily return. For the sake of raising our children with our families around. For the sake of Hebrew and warmth.
Of the Israelis that I’ve met in my five years in New York, those who don’t want to go back to Israel seem to be a minority, not a majority. A real mahapach, a real change in government, would help the day of our return grow nearer.
“If it’s Bibi again, I will definitely regret not going back to vote” is what I thought a week before the election.
Vendors at Mahane Yehuda, Jerusalem’s legendary vegetable market, wished each other happy holiday Wednesday morning when they learned that Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s Likud party had swept the election.
Mahane Yehuda is considered a Likud stronghold, and shop owners were worried in the weeks leading up to the election.
“They believed the polls,” said Yaron Tzidkiyahu. In a market full of amateur political pundits, nobody is as sought after by the media as Tzidkiyahu, who dishes out political commentary alongside glistening olives, pickles, and garlic.
On Wednesday afternoon, the market brimmed with pomegranates, fresh fish and rounds of halva. Tourists, locals and Israel’s Channel 2 news crew roamed about, soaking up the post-election atmosphere. A van decorated with a poster of Netanyahu and four large flags — three Likud and one Israeli national flag — drove by.
Tzidkiyahu was apprehensive for Tuesday’s vote even as he voted for far right Yisrael Beiteinu’s Avigdor Lieberman, breaking with his 40 year personal tradition of supporting Likud. In an interview with the Guardian before the election, Tzidkiyahu said that Netanyahu hadn’t done enough to help Israel’s struggling economy.
What would happen if an Israeli coffee chain started a #RaceTogether campaign like Starbucks’? Nothing good, that’s what. Getty Images/Starbucks
Benjamin Netanyahu confirmed everyone’s worst fears about him when he launched a last-minute fear campaign on Tuesday, warning that “Arab voters are coming out in droves to the polls” — and proving that he is perfectly happy to win an election using racism.
Depressingly, predictably, Bibi’s “the-Arabs-are-coming” bugaboo worked like a dream on the Israeli public, shoring up his base by swinging the right-wing vote toward him. But how will it play in America?
The answer is: very, very bad.
Or at least it should be.
Moshe Kahlon, the kingmaker now that the results are in / Getty Images
So you wanted a Jewish state — a democracy, no less. Well, you got one.
Over the course of a century, the most talkative people has been empowered with the most debate-encouraging political system to create what is arguably one of the most colorful, noisy and widely-covered election cycles in the world.
But while this election’s results are pretty much in line with what the final weeks of polling have suggested — the bigger Likud and Zionist Camp parties came out stronger than expected, while Moshe Kahlon still looks like the kingmaker for the next government — there were a few last-minute surprises that will resonate far beyond the coming weeks and months.
For about five minutes yesterday, headlines across America blasted out Prime Minister Netanyahu’s announcement that there would be no Palestinian state as long as he is Prime Minister. This would appear to fly in the face of his own declared Israeli policy, and undermine the central pillar of both American and European policies vis-a-vis the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Yet beyond the fact that Western media were way too preoccupied with the election itself to dwell on his pronouncements, there are two big reasons why it slipped quickly off the radar.
First — because pretty much anything that is said by any Israeli politician in the week before elections may be safely dismissed as electioneering. And second — because it is far from clear what exactly the shift would mean if he even meant it. After all, from Netanyahu’s perspective, the difference between accepting or rejecting the idea of a Palestinian state today, when the vast majority of Israelis oppose it and the peace talks haven’t borne fruit in a very long time, seems more like a shift from “we believe in a Palestinian state as soon as the Palestinians are ready for one” to “we reject a Palestinian state because the Palestinians aren’t yet ready for one.” In other words, de facto, it feels more like a shift in rhetoric — even if an important one with long-lasting consequences — than a change in policy.
J.J. Goldberg and Nathan Guttman analyze Israel’s exit polls as they come in, bouncing ideas off one another to figure out what’s next for the government. This post will be updated frequently, so check back soon.
Isaac Herzog put on his best face and told his supporters that it ain’t over yet.
But to get the true picture of the shape the Zionist Union is in, it’s worthwhile listening to Reuven Adler, the party’s strategist who spent his entire career in the battlefields of Israeli politics. Adler basically conceded on behalf of his client. Asked if Netanyahu is better positioned to form the next government, Adler replied dryly, “yes.”
Herzog may not be ready to admit it yet, but it is pretty much over.
In order to become the next prime minister, Herzog needs to pull off the political stunt of the century and convince Moshe Kahlon to take a risk and join him instead of the Likud party where he and most of his voters feel comfortable. Kahlon himself said in his speech tonight that he has forgiven everyone. Who exactly? Kahlon didn’t say, but if Netanyahu is on the list of those granted forgiveness by the new kingmaker of Israeli politics, the road to the next Netanyahu right wing government is paved.
Herzog’s other last chance is to somehow convince Netanyahu and President Rivlin, that only his presence in a national unity government could save Bibi from the international calamity waiting around the corner: a bad deal with Iran, tensions with America, and a Palestinian move in the U.N.
Netanyahu, however, has no reason to buy this promise. After all, he had just proven in his speech to Congress that one can defy the will of the United States, of all the free world, and of many of his voters and still get reelected.
Late-breaking news: Israel’s Channel 1 TV publishes an adjusted exit poll that shows the far-right Yahad party passing the threshold and entering the Knesset with 4 seats.
The 4 seats come at the expense of Herzog’s Zionist Union, which drops to 26 seats; Lapid, who drops to 11; the Arab-backed Joint List, which drops to 12; and Moshe Kahlon, who now has 9 seats.
This reverses my earlier count of recommendations to the president for who should have first crack at forming a coalition. That had been 57 for Herzog and 54 for Netanyahu. If Yahad’s numbers hold up, that’s now 57 for Netanyahu and 54 for Herzog. One twist: One of Yahad’s four new lawmakers, former Kahanist Baruch Marzel, threatened earlier not to recommend anyone for prime minister. That would make it 56 Netanyahu, 54 Herzog.
That said, it’s still up to Moshe Kahlon. Whoever he picks gains an immediate majority and wins the president’s nod. What are his considerations?
For Netanyahu: Kahlon considers himself a true Likudnik, who’s come to restore the Likud to the true path that Menachem Begin envisioned. To do that he needs to get in the game. On a more crass level, joining a Likud-led coalition positions him to maneuver to succeed Bibi as leader of the movement. In a Herzog-led coalition he’s just one of many social activists — though one with considerable clout, given the near-certainty that Herzog would make him finance minister.
For Herzog: Kahlon said tonight that he would join with whichever camp promises real social reform. The Labor Party has a crowd of social reformers close to Kahlon’s school in key positions, including Shelly Yachimovich and Stav Shaffir in the 3 and 4 slots on the party list after leaders Herzog and Livni. If Kahlon seriously wants to implement reform during the next Knesset, that’s the spot to do it.
Which way will he go? Smart politics of the classical sort would dictate that he go with Bibi. But he just might be naïve enough to pretend he’s Mr. Smith going to Washington and join with Herzog. He says he’ll announce his decision after the final vote count on March 24. Until then we’ll be holding our breath.
Despite the tight race, Bibi is the big winner, at least of this night.
First, he came back from the dead with an aggressive campaign that proved there is nothing like some last-minute fear-mongering to get voters back to the base. Also, he is in a better position than Herzog to get tasked by President Rivlin to create the next coalition.
Netanyahu’s dream coalition: Bennett (weakened and battered, just like Bibi wants him), Shas (also significantly weaker, thanks to Yishay who broke off), UTJ (the Ashkenazi ultra Orthodox), Lieberman (also, too weak to pose any threat) and Kahlon. A classic right-wing government.
Herzog will have to jump through hoops to get to anything close to a coalition.
Only saving grace for Herzog — Bibi could prefer a national unity government with Zionist Union, which will help him deflect international pressure and would make coalition negotiations much easier.
On the surface it looks like a dead heat, which means an advantage to Bibi and a disappointment to Herzog. All the smart thinking pre-election was that Herzog needed a significant lead over Bibi in the final Knesset seat count in order to overcome Bibi’s advantage in the ease with which he could form a coalition. Herzog would need to bring the Haredim together with Lapid, which would require considerable muscle and bargaining power to force them to compromise with each other. Bibi wouldn’t have that problem — he needs to bring the Haredim together not with Lapid but with Bennett.
Things are different now. Their natural camps are lopsided in the opposite direction. Here’s how it breaks down according to Mina Tzemach’s exit poll on Channel 2:
On the left, Herzog (27), Lapid (12) plus Meretz (5) equals 44. On the right, Likud (27), Bennett (8) plus Lieberman (5) equals 40.
Additional recommendations, though no commitment to join a coalition later: Joint List for Herzog: 13. Haredim for Bibi: 13 (assuming Torah Judaism recommends Bibi — they might not recommend anyone). Total recommendations: 57 for Herzog, 53 for Bibi. By cannibalizing Bennett’s vote to bring his own party even with Herzog’s, Bibi may have undermined his bloc and weakened his bargaining power. Unless there’s a big surprise — or Kahlon decides to break his silence and recommend Bibi — it looks to me like Herzog gets first crack at negotiating for a coalition.
Silan Dallal, a Jewish activist with the Joint List / Naomi Zeveloff
This morning, Wael Mahamid received a mass text message from the Likud party with the warning to its right wing base that Israeli Arabs were going to the polls in record numbers.
But Mahamid only laughed at the message, which was sent out to millions of Israelis. After all, he is working for just that outcome.
“It was very funny,” he said. “This message, it gives us hope. It gives us more motivation to work hard.”
Mahamid, a 43-year-old history teacher, is the manager for the Jaffa headquarters for Joint List, which is made up of four Arab parties in Israel: Hadash, the Jewish-Arab communist party, Ra’am, an Islamist group whose base is in southern Israel; and Ta’al and Balad, two nationalist groups. The four groups joined for the first time this year in order to overcome Israel’s new voter threshold which mandates that parties must garner 3.25 percent of the vote, or about 4 seats, to enter the Knesset. Pollsters predict that the list could get as many as 15 seats for Israeli’s Arab public.
But at around 8:00 pm on election night, with just two hours until the polls closed, Joint List volunteers were concerned about the prospect of low voter turnout among Arab Israelis. At the List’s Jaffa base, in a warehouse across the street from a park, activists checked their cell phones and updated Facebook. A TV blared election updates on a Hebrew station. On the walls were handwritten signs in Arabic and Hebrew: “Peace for two nations.”
Silan Dallal, a Jewish activist with the List, cheered when another volunteer told her that the percentage of voters went up a point, to 57 percent from 56 percent of eligible Arab Israelis. That was still 10 points lower than one prediction, from a study commissioned by the Abraham Fund for coexistence in Israel.
Dallal said that the prime minister himself was to blame. If Arab Israelis thought there were “buses and buses” of people voting, maybe they would feel their vote wasn’t needed after all.
“If the unification doesn’t bring any difference, people are going to be much more devastated and desperate that it didn’t work because they waited for so long for it to happen,” she said.
Another two activists, Rola Agbaria and Itamar Haritan-Reiner, decided to launch an impromptu get-out-the vote effort. Walking on Jaffa’s busy Yefet Street, Agbaria asked a group of mechanics fixing a motorcycle if they had voted.
Elias Ashar, a 25-year-old, said that no, he hadn’t. Why should he? The leaders are taking care of themselves and not him.
Elias Ashar voted for the Joint List / Naomi Zeveloff
“This party scares the fascist right,” Agbaria said. She said that she was planning on boycotting the elections too, but the unification of the parties was a “historic event” and she couldn’t sit it out.
“We Arabs are treated like dogs,” Ashar countered. He said that French immigrants buy property in Jaffa for millions, while he, a local, could barely afford to make ends meet.
“Fifteen seats in the list will change this reality,” said Agbaria.
Finally, Ashar relented and got into Agbaria’s car. She drove him to a nearby polling place as he joked that he would vote for Green Leaf, Israel’s marijuana party. Agbaria and Haritan-Reiner waited as Ashar cast his vote.
He emerged with the white card that proved he had voted for the Joint List. It was his first time voting.
How was it? “Good.”
Or Amar, 21, with Martina Bialek, 23 / Naomi Zeveloff
In Israel, election day is a holiday. And in Tel Aviv, voters traditionally hit the beach after they go to the polls — whether they vote for left or right wing or anything in between.
“The day started with coffee, very early, then we went to vote, and then we came to the beach to relax,” said Sagi, a 39-year-old startup worker with a shaved head and sunglasses who was sipping on a Goldstar beer on the beach with his cousin, Lior. The cousins asked not to include their last names for privacy reasons. “Israelis need a day off after we choose.”
Gordon Beach, in north Tel Aviv, was packed with visitors, even though it wasn’t quite beach weather. Teenagers smoked hookah on blankets while people played volleyball and ping pong in the sand. Unlike urban Tel Aviv, nary a political poster was in sight.
Sagi voted for Naftali Bennett, of the far right Jewish Home party. “Why? I believe in his way.”
“He wants to kill Arabs!” said Lior.
“Don’t say that!” said Sagi. And then, about Lior: “He’s from the left, you see.”
In Beit Hakerem a leafy, historically left-leaning neighborhood in West Jerusalem, Israel’s conflict with the Palestinians and its standing with the United States was driving voters to the ballot box.
Voter after voter said they had hope that a new government would bring peace and prosperity — and end Netanyahu’s grip on power.
“I think it’s very important for our country that there will be peace negotiations. We need two states for two people,” said Nurit, 44, who declined to give her last name because she works for the Israeli government. “Netanyahu is doing a very bad job of guiding our foreign relations with the United States and other countries.”
Standing in the parking lot of a high school polling place, Nurit said that she cast her vote for the Zionist Union. “I believe they can do it better,” she said of negotiations. “I’m not sure, but they have a chance to do it differently.”
Another government worker who declined to give her name for the same reason, also supported Isaac Herzog. In the past, she voted for the centrist Kadima Party.
“I’m sure that something will move with an agreement with the Palestinians,” she said. “I am very hopeful.”
At lunchtime, voters streamed into the high school, across from a Domino’s Pizzeria. The fence outside the school was plastered with posters from parties right to left: Yisrael Beitenu, Likud, Kulanu, Zionist Union, and Meretz.
“Vote for Lieberman!” a young woman in sunglasses screamed through a rolled up poster tube with a photo of Yisrael Beiteinu chief Avigdor Lieberman.
Like many parts of Jerusalem, Beit Hakerem, once a secular bastion of the arts, has grown increasingly ultra-Orthodox in recent years. Secular voters on the street said they were voting to keep the ultra-Orthodox out of the government — with some making surprising choices.
In the West Bank settlement of Har Homa, just outside Jerusalem, many residents said they were voting for Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu — some in spite of themselves.
Forty-year-old Ilana Ben Moshe echoed remarks of many when she said she was torn between Netanyahu and other right wing candidates, especially Jewish Home Party leader Naftali Bennett.
“My decision was between Bennett and Netanyahu,” said Ben Moshe, a culture blogger, who went to vote with her husband, a Likud supporter, and four children that morning.
“My husband told me if Bibi won’t be elected, then Bennett will be outside. It’s not that I want Bibi, but Bibi is better than the alternative.”
Har Homa, a hilltop settlement with towering views of the Palestinian West Bank, is a right wing medley. Outside a polling station at the neighborhood’s entrance, volunteers for Avigdor Lieberman’s Yisrael Beitenu party nailed a campaign tent into the ground.
A car with a poster for the Orthodox Yachad splinter party pasted on its hood parked next to a vehicle with Hello Kitty seat covers. Posters for Shas and Likud dotted balconies and street medians.
The Jewish Home Party set up a life sized placard of Bennett with his arm around a curly-haired man with his face cut out. Children placed their faces inside the hole and smiled for pictures.
While some Har Homa voters said that while they felt better represented by smaller parties, many said it was crucial to support Netanyahu to ensure a right wing government as their Prime Minister had slipped in the polls in recent weeks.
Ayman Oudeh with his family / Facebook
According to an Arab friend who lives in the Middle East, the most exciting Arab leader is an Israeli. His name is Ayman Oudeh. He is a 40-year-old Muslim attorney from Haifa with a wife and three kids. The newly-formed political party he heads — the Joint List — is currently polling third, after the Zionist Union and Likud.
But in a sense, Oudeh has already won the election.
If you want to see in one shot why many Israel observers are tearing their hair out in response to the country’s electoral process, feast your eyes on this cool infographic from the Economist.
The chart shows the breakdown of each election since 1949 until the projected results of tomorrow’s vote. At the top are election years dominated by the mega party of Mapai, and after 1973 by Labor and Likud, each taking equally large chunks. But by the mid-1990s we begin to see the situation that has led today to a feeling of paralysis — lots of smaller parties each biting off sizable fractions out of the total of 120 seats, but no one winning more than 30.
If there’s a case to be made for electoral reform, this pretty much captures it.
After voting many Israelis will have a picnic or go to the beach — no matter whom they vote for / Getty Images
(JTA) — “Whom to vote for and whom not to vote for?”
Thus begins page 17 of the Talmud’s Tractate Voters. It continues: “One should not vote for Likud or Zionist Union or Shas or Yachad or Kulanu or Meretz or the Arabs or Israel Is Our Home or Yahadut HaTorah or The Jewish Home or Yesh Atid, but, rather, solely for the empty ballot itself.”
This page of Talmudic commentary (scroll down to see it) was penned not by a second century rabbinic sage but by Doron Chitiz, a Judaic-studies teacher in the Israeli city of Raanana who, in the spirit of the recent Purim holiday, injected some cynicism into the otherwise heavy political campaign preceding Tuesday’s elections.
The South Africa-born Chitiz, 29, studied in yeshiva during college and ably employed the Talmudic style in his spoof, including abundant biblical citations and rabbinical-logical conclusions.
While writing previous Talmudic-themed Purim spiels — those tackled alcohol and soft-drink choices — Chitiz created a template for the body of the text along with faux analysis in the two margins by 11th-century scholar Rashi and the medieval commentators known as Tosafot, blending Hebrew and Aramaic and employing Rashi’s particular typography.
This year’s edition is so sharp that readers might imagine those rabbinic legends duly impressed, nodding in affirmation while stifling guffaws.
Chitiz, who will vote for Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu’s Likud Party, is an equal-opportunity skewer.
With only a few days to go until the election, Israeli co-leaders of the Zionist Union — Tzipi Livni and Isaac Herzog (aka Buji) — wanted to do a little last-minute politicking. So they visited Tel Aviv’s outdoor Carmel Market.
They were really excited about it.
Knesset Members from Israeli Arab parties announce a joint list in Israel’s election / Getty Images
“Bibi, Buji, Zehava and Issawi: All of the Jews are the same,” noted leaders of the Arab Balad party at a recent executive meeting.
Balad Party activists are willing to lump together Netanyahu with Meretz Chairwoman Zehava Gal-On, who supports the Arab Peace Initiative and the division of Jerusalem. Even more offensive is the derision expressed toward Arab MK Issawi Frej of Meretz merely because he joined a Zionist party, despite being left-wing and promoting Palestinian statehood.
The Balad Party’s mentality is representative of a larger problem within the Joint Arab List: the refusal to sit in a coalition led by Labor. Despite the Joint Arab List’s animosity toward Netanyahu and his settlement policy, such actions will only guarantee that Likud will continue to rule Israel during the next term.
Despite relatively promising numbers with Labor leading in many polls, Herzog will have an exceedingly difficult time forming a coalition following the elections. Shas’s Aryeh Deri announced that he will support Netanyahu and Avigdor Lieberman emphasized that he won’t join a leftist government. In the current formulations, it looks nearly impossible for Herzog to build a coalition with such diverse and conflicting partners.
But with the Arab party’s growing popularity — it’s now the third largest Knesset party with 12-13 seats according multiple recent polls — the dynamics could change. If the Arab party were to join Labor, Meretz, Yesh Atid and Kahlon’s Kulanu, the left wing would have the strength to depose Netanyahu and form an alternative coalition.
Unfortunately, the Arab party has repeatedly rejected any future willingness to sit in a coalition led by Labor, with Arab MK Jamal Zahlaka calling the Zionist Union a second-rate Likud.
(Reuters) — Israelis will vote in a parliamentary election on March 17, choosing among party lists of candidates to serve in the 120-seat Knesset.
No party has won a majority of seats since Israel’s first election in 1949. Here are 7 questions and answers about the vote and what sort of coalition negotiations could emerge:
1) WHAT HAPPENS AFTER POLLS CLOSE?
Israel’s three major television stations broadcast exit polls when voting ends at 10 pm (2000 GMT), estimating how many parliamentary seats each party has won, and then the coalition calculations begin.
2) WHO’S AHEAD IN OPINION POLLS?
On the face of things, it’s a tie between the two main parties: Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s right-wing Likud and the center-left Zionist Union led by Isaac Herzog and Tzipi Livni. Taking past political affiliations and current policies into consideration, more parties seem likely to favor joining Likud in a coalition.
In the latest news to come out of this already-strange Israeli election, the Jewish Press stated on Sunday that the ballots for the upcoming election will be printed in Karnei Shomron by Yisrapot, an Israeli settlement in the West Bank considered illegal under international law. The pro-settler writer at that publication claimed that leftists who want to “stay true” to the boycott should therefore avoid the ballots on March 17 — with a specific barb aimed at the Meretz leader Zahava Gal-On.
What is interesting — and to me, as an anti-occupation Jew, terrifying — is the way this contract shows just how entwined Israel is in its occupation of the West Bank, and how “normal” the settlements have become in Israeli administration.
First, the fact that this contract was awarded to a settlement company shows how entrenched Israeli rule over the West Bank is. The system allows for ballots to be printed in an area not technically part of the state; what’s more, it signals that there is no desire to end the occupation anytime soon. In a way, the simple act of printing the ballots is a political act: it indirectly declares governance over the area.
For Palestinians who cannot vote in the elections, it also adds insult to injury: the ballots allowing Israelis a choice in their state’s rule over another people will be printed on land that that people did not choose to have occupied.
MacBook’s Dictation function / Apple
So, while messing around with my MacBook Pro, I must have inadvertently hit the “fn” button twice, thus triggering the computer’s Dictation function. I’d never tried it before, so I spoke a few sentences into it. It’s actually astoundingly good at converting speech into text.
In advance of the upcoming Israeli elections, I thought I’d try to stump it by dictating the names of Israeli politicians and cabinet members. The results were less encouraging. Here, therefore, is your guide to the 2015 Israeli election as interpreted and transcribed by a Mac:
Benjamin Netanyahu: Nothing yahoo
Gilad Erdan: Aragon, you’re done
Silvan Shalom: Sylvana shalom
Yisrael Katz: Israel Katz
Danny Danon: Danny done on
Moshe Ya’alon: Moshe you are alone
Ze’ev Elkin: Set of Elton
Tzipi Hotovely: To be a totally
Yariv Levin: Your evil Levin
Yuli Edelstein: You like Apple store
Haim Katz: Fighting cats
Miri Regev: . Marriott Regular
Moshe Feiglin: Moshe 51
Yuval Steinitz: You’ve all-star nuts
Tzachi Hanegbi: Cioffi: Hi baby sake
Limor Livnat: Anymore leave not
Illustration by Lior Zaltzman
I was exactly 18 the first time I voted in the Israeli elections. I was a newly minted soldier, uniform all fresh and stiff, with the dent of the strap of my M16 on my shoulder, waiting in line at an army base. More than anything I was welling up, filled with hope and a sense of importance, just a sting of it. And for a second I felt empowered in a country that often left me feeling hopeless and powerless.
It’s eight years later and I’m walking around downtown Brooklyn with my Israeli best friend from elementary school. I tell her that I’m thinking of going back home for the elections. And she laughs. It’s such a waste of your time, she says. Come for Passover instead.
I wish I had something to say in response.
Arab politician Ahmed Tibi addresses the press / Getty Images
The general mood in Israel, ahead of the second general election in just two years, is that little to nothing is going to change. Whether you’re an admirer of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu or his sworn enemy, everybody agrees that his chances of a third reelection are good, and that his new government will be similarly composed of several medium-size parties with differing agendas. Another safe assumption is that it will fail to address people’s substantial concerns, chief among them the soaring cost of living.
Barring those on the left who are encouraged by the prospects of a Labor-led government recently moving from nonexistent to slim, most people see the 2015 elections as the most inconsequential in Israel’s recent history. For me, however, they are momentous. In these elections, I’m going to part with the party that has been my political home throughout my adult life.
The March 17 polling day will be the first that I won’t vote for Meretz, the decidedly left-wing, progressive, pro-human rights and anticlerical party. And it’s not because my views have changed or because they’ve done a poor job — on the contrary, especially since Zahava Galon took the leadership in 2011, they’ve been a steadfast and courageous mouthpiece for Israel’s beleaguered peace camp. In spite of all this, in these coming elections I have decided to cross the line, as it were, and, as an Israeli Jew, vote for the newly founded joint Arab list.
Still from Yotam Perel
Say what you will about Naftali Bennett’s “I’m Not Sorry” viral ad campaign — we certainly did. But one thing you can’t deny is that it was smartly done. Bennett’s ad was internet-savvy and in touch with its target audience.
The same cannot be said for Meretz’s latest ad campaign. I wish I could tell you exactly what goes on in it, but all I can do is use my finest army intelligence training to try and surmise. The gang from Meretz appear to be crashing (not very convincingly) a wedding party and breaking out into dance to the balkan beat of Meretz’s new jingle (you guys, balkan beats are so 2011). No one is looking at the camera and everyone seems embarrassed to be there. It feels like my cousin’s bar-mitzvah.
The head of the party, Zehava Galon, is a bar-mitzvah aunt, jumping from side to side with eyes glazed, awkwardly mumbling along with the lyrics. Galon can’t even handle her vodka shots. So how can she handle another four years as a political party head?
The music is as embarrassing as the visuals, with tacky lyrics like “I’ll just have good times, not bad times, everything is possible, it’s just a matter of choice” and “Let’s stop the hate and choose love.” And the balkan beat is a conscious PC choice, so as not to make the ad feel too Ashkenazi or too Sephardic. The result is this lackluster, dated song.
Meretz, after all, is filled with good intentions. They’re staying away from inflammatory and derogatory ads. Everyone from the Likud to the Zionist Block have been up to the usual pre-election mud-slinging and Meretz wants to set itself apart. “Suckers” is what Hipster Naftali Bennett would say, along with a bunch of Israelis. And suckers is a very nice name when compared to some of the name-calling directed at the Israeli left recently, especially in the wake of the recent Gaza war.
I understand that Meretz wants to be good. It just has to be better at being good. Meretz is all that’s left in the Israeli left.
And Meretz does have accomplishments to tout. You don’t have to look too hard to see that they are the most pro-gay party there is. They are constantly rated the number one party for workers’ rights. They are very strong when it comes to human rights as well. Galon is a great politician and she gets things done. So why does every Meretz video feel so awkward and ill-fitting?
Bottom line: Meretz needs to fire whoever is in charge of their PR, pronto. And I’ve got a suggestion for a new hire: animator Yotam Perel, the guy who made the following spoof of the Meretz campaign video. In less than 20 seconds, his animation managed to be more evocative — definitely more weirdly mesmerizing — than anything Zehava has managed to put forth so far. Here, see for yourself: