Opinion: Bibi under their skin [pg. 14]

Far too late for my personal benefit, but in time for this year's elections, someone sent me an article about picking up women in Israel. I thought about it while watching the campaign broadcasts the other night. Apparently in order to charm a woman, you also need to irritate her. The negative complements the positive. And I think that maybe the electorate is a woman. Watching the parties' first hour of TV advertising this year, an uninformed visitor might mistake Binyamin Netanyahu for the incumbent. When his record as prime minister wasn't being praised, it was being reviled. Positives and negatives revolved around him. Little was said about Ehud Olmert's record as acting prime minister if only because he scarcely has one; and of course Amir Peretz is untried in that office. Peretz did have an appealing slide show of his career, but whereas a similar slide show of Bibi's climaxed with august scenes familiar from the world's front-page news, again Peretz and Olmert were both, by contrast, in the inexperienced challenger's position, boasting no similar kilo-Kodak moments. The three major parties seemed to be holding a referendum on Bibi, as if today were 1999. His approvers and his attackers both filled the screen with his image. Those who attacked Olmert were wiser and concentrated on words. In a pithy rhyme, they claimed: "In the face of danger Olmert is blind / So to him the country can't be consigned." (Okay, the Hebrew is pithier.) Going along with the risky game, the Likud presented itself as little more than the Netanyahu party, though Silvan Shalom was given some speaking time. HAVE YOU noticed that whereas the candidates of the tiny parties speak directly to the camera, the candidates of the major parties are often made to gaze as if they were answering questions from someone behind your left shoulder? And their pre-rehearsed remarks are spliced roughly, to sound as if they were snipped from a spontaneous conversation. Oddest of all was the way a speech from the Labor candidates was portioned out so that nine or 10 candidates could each speak a line. It reminded me of Popeye's three nephews collaborating on a three-word sentence in an old cartoon. "Hello." "Uncle." "Popeye." Then the Labor candidates were shown affably assembling for a photo, with Ami Ayalon carelessly caught looking like the odd man out. Or was that deliberate? Meretz, though it features its candidates aggressively on billboards, didn't televise them at all. The Kadima candidates posed for a group shot in a backgroundless virtual environment with a striped digital streamer snaking through it. This year, unlike previous years, the parties are not spending much time whisking us through scenes of successful Zionist agriculture, manufacturing, construction and learning. Mostly the TV screen is just a screen this year, not so much a magic carpet. Perhaps the least awkward speaker was old media fox Tommy Lapid, chatting with Avraham Poraz for the Secular Zionist party, which spun off from Shinui. Whether feeding Poraz a leading question like "Why are you bothering?" or turning to the audience to tell us whom to vote for, Lapid was at one with the medium, transcending the situation's artificiality by not appearing to fight it. Shinui itself could have used some media smarts to fight its own bad taste. The Shinui ad showed, in fantasy, how a vote for the party causes haredim to explode spontaneously into dust. What we saw of the real world was largely the world of the poor. This year, they seem to have political champions in greater numbers than ever. Shas presented an anonymous fellow complaining that he worked long hours but still couldn't support his family. I think that most of us up to the ninth decile can identify with that, and there were household voices in the background to complete the impression of realism. Maybe the parties should be required to display the word "dramatization," like some commercial advertisements overseas, to distinguish what's fake from what's authentic. I couldn't be certain. Shortly after Shas came the Power to the Poor party, featuring not a worker but a miserable, trembling man with no job and only bread and a couple of slices of sausage a day to live on. Also a real-looking figure, but not as easy for the middle-class voters to recognize as, but for the grace of God, themselves. Such an extreme image risks an instinctive denial. Speaking for the deprived there was also the Bread party, and the largely Arab-oriented Daam workers' party. But the major parties too grappled with economics - except that for them, economics was just one more argument over whether Bibi was good or bad for the country. His opponents should beware; the more they brandish his image at the voters, the more voters may yield to him. The author works primarily in technical writing, translation and copywriting.