CULTURAL PRISM: How low can we go

Election rhetoric is based on gimmicks and spins instead of in-depth clarification of viewpoints.

Netanyahu and Herzog (photo credit: MARC ISRAEL SELLEM/THE JERUSALEM POST,REUTERS)
Netanyahu and Herzog
This week, I attended a lecture given by Uri Rabinovich, deputy CEO and chief investment manager at Harel Finance.
When he concluded his excellent analysis of the Israeli financial environment, someone asked: “How come none of this is reflected in the election campaigns?” The answer is simple: Elections are not about portraying reality or debating serious issues, but a brawl of shallow slogans, appealing to the lowest common denominator.
Election fever has us overly exposed to media coverage, daily polls and a viral video war via social media, such as the “Bibi-sitter” and “Bennett the hipster” video offerings.
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Those who presume and aspire to lead our nation offer no coherent vision, no clear road map, and no practical plan. Instead they engage in self-glorification, and narrative manipulation, and spend more energy on demonizing their opponents than presenting their agendas.
Election rhetoric is based on gimmicks and spins instead of in-depth clarification of viewpoints.
Speeches and ads are artificial and scripted, instead of informative and inspirational.
Our discourse is contaminated by verbal violence and flamboyance, instead of civilized debate. Statements are made to be attractive rather than practical, and profitable politically rather than nationally.
Shallowness is everywhere. Even the official ad by the government, advising the public on the election, has stooped to a disrespectful portrayal of a citizen as a Great Dane chewing the official governmental notice.
The Likud party doesn’t bother to publish a platform. Its campaign is based on chanting that Bibi Netanyahu is a great leader and is the only one who can save us from Iran.
It’s not only the debate on Channel 2 that Benjamin Netanyahu dodged. He avoids interviews and refuses to face the public and answer questions. Press conferences are limited to his comfort zone – during military operations.
Zionist Union leader Isaac Herzog isn’t much different. His hackneyed modus operandi is slamming Netanyahu and repeating over and over again: “I’m going to be the next prime minister.” He failed miserably by making the disgraceful rotation deal for the premiership with Tzipi Livni, by mounting an amateurish campaign, and most important – by failing to produce a worthy platform.
The Zionist Union tries to convince us that it will demonstrate responsible leadership, solve all of our problems and regain the respect of the world. It does not present a credible plan for fixing the economy, and its “Social Correction Plan” has turned out to be no more than a PR brochure with declarative slogans.
To counter Netanyahu’s “Mr. Defense” posture, the Zionist Union embarks on defense-related tours, promising to achieve better security, and even exert more military might. An example is MK Omer Bar-Lev’s childish statement that Herzog will have the guts to attack Iran.
The idea that national programs can be drafted overnight and summed up in a few flashy bullets is a ridiculous insult to our intelligence.
The most fundamental issues, such as the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, or separation of religion and state, are hardly addressed. Serious platforms, such as the one introduced this week by Yesh Atid, are rare.
We’re stuck with a bunch of demagogic manipulators, when we deserve leadership and statesmanship.
Bayit Yehudi leader Naftali Bennett uses a brilliant tactic. He has instilled an imaginary underdog posture, as if religious Zionists have always been oppressed, but can finally raise their heads under his bold leadership. He attributes violent intentions to legitimate opposition, and blows minor incidents out of proportion, bolstering the image of persecution. His “No Apology” slogan is valueless, and serves only his demagogic purpose.
Google the term “demagogue,” and you will find a chillingly accurate description of the techniques used in this election campaign.
From Arye Deri with his exacerbation of racial and class rifts, to Netanyahu’s cultivation of fear of Iran.
The challenges and threats are real, but are exploited in an imbalanced way for political gain.
Demagogic tactics are also employed by the ambiguous Victory 2015 (V15) group, with its “Anyone but Bibi” agenda, cloaked with the good old “change and hope” narrative. These worked for President Barack Obama, and his political strategists are now here, adapting it to the anti-Netanyahu campaign.
Addressing the nature of this campaign, Knesset Speaker Yuli Edelstein said: “The shallowness is killing me,” and asserted that instead of addressing the issues, candidates lapse into personal attacks.
A troubling theme in our political debate, which surfaced during the televised debate, is arguing for “the truth” while blaming the other side for spreading lies. Meretz leader Zehava Gal- On repeatedly accused Bennett of lying, and he played into this distorted manner of argument by answering: “I am telling the truth!” It is a serious mistake to portray political differences as a clash between truth and falsehood.
Gal-On and Bennett both represent viable points of view, held by opposing ideological camps, emanating from different cultural and religious backgrounds. Simply put, they differ in their situational awareness, and offer different solutions for the same reality.
There is no one truth. We don’t know whether Sara Netanyahu is a tyrannical miser, or the victim of horrible character assassination. We even disagree whether Netanyahu’s address to Congress was an act of bold leadership or a cynical campaign stunt, destructive to Israel- US relations.
We have so many ludicrous confrontations.
Deri and Eli Yishai quarrel over who better embodies the spirit of Rabbi Ovadia Yosef. The Likud and the Zionist Union argue over who is more Zionistic. Right and Left debate over who has better learned the lessons from Yitzhak Rabin’s assassination.
Despite the sense of despondency, I expect a high voter turnout, because people feel that dramatic issues are at hand. But I expect disappointment from those who have nurtured hope for dramatic change. Viral videos can’t change our political demography.
Whatever the outcome of this election, we are destined to have a hung parliament, with the same fragmentation and polarization. In a way, our current political system is doomed to be dysfunctional. Elections – one of the building blocks of democracy – have become a feeble, and almost meaningless, process.
But we can’t afford it. I’m not only referring to the hundreds of millions of shekels going down the drain, but to the huge sociological toll the election is taking on our society.
Soon it will be over. The verbal slime will be washed away overnight, and the stickers and posters will be cleared from our streets.
The politicians seem to know it’s all a game, and they will soon partner-up in coalitions with people they now vilify. Yair Lapid, for example, accuses Netanyahu of traitorous corruption and serving only his personal interests instead of national goals. With such severe allegations, it’s astounding that Lapid doesn’t rule out the possibility of sitting in Netanyahu’s government once again.
It should be unacceptable to us that political campaigning must entail this shameful conduct.
Maybe we can learn from this low point in our political history, and try to bring about change.
A good starting point for Knesset members could be to sign the Gesher organization’s “Ten Commandments for Politicians,” promoting tolerance and respectful discourse.
Before tackling Iran and other burning issues, I would recommend that the elected leaders conduct a workshop on how to communicate with each other in constructive, rather than destructive, ways, in order to bridge the vast ideological gaps.
Our political culture is such that from day 1, the opposition’s mission will be to overthrow the government. I know this may seem unreachable, but perhaps all parties could agree that the next election should occur only in four years. The opposition should be free to foster a lively and constructive debate and promote legislation according to its platform, while allowing the government to govern.
IDF Radio recently produced a Hebrew version of the song “Happy” by US artist Pharrell Williams, performed by politicians, aimed at influencing citizens to vote. The lyrics begin with the words: “What fun, elections are here.”
But this ain’t no fun.
Inherent simmering tensions erupt during election time with devastating consequences, and it’s tearing our social fabric, which is delicate as it is.
Elections should be a celebration of democracy, but the only ones celebrating are polling firms, campaign managers, copywriters and the media.
The writer is a former IAF pilot and founder of Cross-Cultural Strategies Ltd.