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Lying comatose in the hospital, Prime Minister Ariel Sharon is absent from the Israeli political scene, but his presence was felt in many of the final political commercials aired Sunday night as parties made some of their last bids for support.
Kadima, which Sharon created in November 2005, used him directly. It showed a clip from Kadima's founding press conference, in which Sharon stated his reasons for forming the party and said, "I call on everyone who believes in us."
The Likud, which Sharon led and helped create three decades earlier, could hardly still claim the prime minister as one of its founders. It used Sharon instead to attack Kadima head Ehud Olmert, showing a clip of Sharon pledging that there would be no further unilateral withdrawals. It warned that Olmert had other plans and said that "[Olmert's] path is not that of Sharon."
It also evoked Sharon's image in a number of shots showing Netanyahu in positions similar to those of well-known photographs of Sharon, including one in a jacket with army officials and another in which he surveys the Israeli landscape.
Israel Beiteinu, similarly, took the famous photograph of Sharon wearing a kippa with his hand on the Western Wall the morning after he won the 2001 election, and re-shot the photograph with its chairman, Avigdor Lieberman.
Sharon was not the only historic leader heralded in the advertisements. The Likud showed shots of former prime minister Menachem Begin, including the famous handshake between Begin and former US president Jimmy Carter, while the announcer reminded voters that it was the Likud that had brought about the peace agreement with Egypt. In Labor's ad, shots of former prime minister Yitzhak Rabin were highlighted.
Another Labor ad appeared to attack the party's chairman Amir Peretz for not having enough experience, for coming from a town in the periphery and for not knowing English. The end of the ad, however, noted that nothing was new about this criticism, as it had also been leveled against Labor prime minister David Ben-Gurion.
Peretz put himself on par not just with Rabin but also with Begin, noting that they were both leaders who advanced both a diplomatic and domestic agenda. He promised to do the same.
Shas made use of one of its spiritual leaders, Rabbi Yitzhak Kaduri, who died in January. It showed footage of Kaduri telling voters to vote for Shas.
With no historic figure to promote because it was founded in 1999, Israel Beiteinu focused on Lieberman. It told the rags-to-riches story of how Lieberman came to Israel from the former Soviet Union without knowing a word of Hebrew, served in the army, brought up a family and made a name for himself in politics.
There was also a certain amount of mudslinging. The right-wing parties in particular, who in the past week had spoken of a united bloc, took shots at each other.
Israel Beiteinu reminded voters that even current members of the Likud voted for disengagement. The Israel Beiteinu ad showed footage of Olmert along with Likud MKs Limor Livnat, Silvan Shalom, Dan Naveh and Netanyahu voting for disengagement in the Knesset. The Likud, meanwhile, accused Lieberman of running with a Knesset list of left-wingers on what it called an "express train to the Left."
As expected, the Likud went after Olmert as well, although its criticism was more tempered than some of its campaign literature. In its broadcasts, the Likud accused Olmert of being left-wing, warning that he would create a border of terror. These elections would be a referendum on Olmert's plan of further territorial withdrawals, the Likud warned.
The Likud also showed past centrist parties bursting like bubbles, noting, "Who will remember them tomorrow?" and promising that Kadima would similarly disappear.
The National Union/National Religious Party accused Shas, the Likud and Israel Beiteinu of waffling on the issue of whether they would sit in a government with Olmert. There was only one party that was truly right-wing, it said.
Israel Beiteinu's ad spoke of its plan to fight crime and showed statistics of rising internal violence as well as photographs of criminals and victims. "Israelis are living in fear. They are afraid to go out of their homes. I have a clear program to fight crime," said Lieberman. It also, of course, made use of the now-famous slogan, "Nyet, Nyet, Da," telling voters to say "Yes" to Lieberman and "No" to his two prime competitors, Olmert and Netanyahu.