Published in The Jerusalem Post on May 9, 1999
This has proven to be Israel’s most disappointing, annoying and vulgar election campaign ever. It has become an uncivilized mud-slinging fracas focussing on personality; a brawl that plays to our basest and most tribal emotions.
As a result, I’m having a hard time handing out any good grades to the candidates and political parties. But in the interest of getting them to improve for the stretch-run, here is a report card on their performances to-date:
Best Campaign Slogans: Natan Sharansky’s “Shas Control Nyet” (don’t let Shas run the Interior Ministry); Ehud Barak’s “Why should this man be allowed another four years in office?”; Bibi Netanyahu’s “If they (the Palestinians) give (security), they’ll get (land). If not, they get nothing”.
Most Biting Commercials: Meretz wins, hands down. Bibi dancing to the tune of the right-wing/religious klezmer band is very evocative. So is the vicious, effective commercial showing the secular man carrying a haredi on his back across the desert, only to throw him off – and living happily ever after.
Cheapest, Easiest Ad Campaign: Call the toll-free number of UTJ. You’ll hear one of Tommy Lapid’s anti-haredi radio clips. From the UTJ perspective, its voters need to hear no more.
Biggest Loser: Yitzhak Mordechai. He had a win-win situation in Likud. Either he would have been defense minister (if Bibi wins), or the leading candidate for party leader (if Bibi loses). Now it’s lose-lose for Mordechai. His Center Party is going no-where, and if he doesn’t withdraw from the leadership race before May 17, he can kiss good-bye to the Defense portfolio under Barak.
Most Glaringly-Absent Issue: The peace process. Nobody is discussing whether there’ll be a Palestinian state or what it will be like. Even the future of Jerusalem isn’t a real issue, because everybody swears fealty to a united Jerusalem. Nobody is relating to the all-important US-Israel relationship. The biggest issue, absurdly, is whether Mordechai will drop out before the first round.
Most Important Unknowns: Will the Arabs turn out in force to vote, especially for Barak in a second round? Can Bibi top 70 percent in the Russian community? Will the haredim mobilize for Bibi, or drop blank ballots in the voting box for Prime Minister?
Most Resonant Campaign Argument: There have been, thank God — and as the argument goes, thank Netanyahu — no big bombings since Labor lost the reins of government. You can argue with the man in the street until you’re blue in the face about the reasons for this, but the gut feeling out there remains that “we’re safer now”. I hear it over and over again. It was only three years ago that the buses were blowing up and people haven’t forgotten. Even if they don’t much like Netanyahu.
Phantoms of the Campaign: Shimon Peres, remember him? What about David Levy, One Israel’s top free agent buy? And Ariel Sharon? Where have they all disappeared to?
Top “Gotcha” Quote: Ehud Barak speaking in NY to Jewish activists: “I don’t spell-out all my dovish views, because I want to be elected prime minister”. True or false, Likud has used this faux pas very effectively.
Most Flagrant Trampling of the Rule of Law: Convicted felon Arye Deri starring in Shas’s advertising, masquerading as a wronged Dreyfus and Demjanjuk rolled into one.
Most Effective Use of the Dead: Everybody is guilty here. UTJ and Shas both are claiming the mantle of the late Baba Sali. Shas has the Dybbyk, straight from the poor Sephardic lady’s mouth. Bibi has victims of Arab terror, and Labor has PM Yitzhak Rabin, of blessed memory. Then there are all the dead people who vote in Bnei Brak….
Most Troublesome Politician: The sanctimonious Hanan Porat, who has now broken away from the NRP for the third time (joining Matzad, then Techiya and now Ichud Haleumi) — supposedly on ideological, but in fact on personal, grounds.
Best Political Deal: Meimad joining One Israel in exchange for two safe spots on the list and one cabinet minister. And nobody even has to prove that Meimad can bring out the vote for Barak!
Feel Most Sorry For: MKs Dan Meridor and Alex Lubotsky, the true centrists in Israeli politics, who have been shunted aside and made irrelevant in the weird politics of the party called “Center”.
First On Deck: Ehud Olmert is first in the race for the prime ministership in 2003. After all, both Labor and Likud are using him for support in their advertising!
Have-No-Shame Award: Goes to all the so-called expert pollsters, who are almost always wrong. Did you notice that the difference between the Maariv and Yediot polls published last week was larger than the margin of error for each poll?!
Sign of the Times: I paid a shiva call in Kfar Habad this past week. Could not find even one single Netanyahu (“good for the Jews”) poster or sticker.
Most Inspiring Campaign: None. Sigh….