Negative campaigns

"It's us or them - the Hebrew city OR city of infiltrators" Likud poster for Tel Aviv elections, October 4, 2018 (photo credit: AVNER GVARYAHU / BREAKING THE SILENCE)
"It's us or them - the Hebrew city OR city of infiltrators" Likud poster for Tel Aviv elections, October 4, 2018
With municipal elections scheduled for later this month, Israelis are getting a taste of what to expect once general elections for the Knesset are announced as some predict will happen within the next few months.
On Thursday, campaign posters were put up by Likud’s Tel Aviv faction ahead of the October 30 city elections depicting African migrants and Islamists under the slogan “It’s us or them.”
One poster shows a split screen, half with a masked Islamist waving a Palestinian flag above the words “The Islamic Movement in Jaffa” and the other half showing an Israeli flag under the words “The Hebrew city.” Along the bottom of the poster the words read “Only the Likud, the Right of Tel Aviv.”
Another Likud campaign poster, with the same “It’s us or them” slogan, juxtaposed an image of African migrants waving an Eritrean flag above the words “City of infiltrators” with the same Israeli flag image and “Hebrew city” banner seen in the other poster.
These posters are drawing accusations of incitement, and we understand why.
Sadly, they are in line with the recent Israeli election cycles, which have been more about negativity and rejection of the “other” than about inclusion or hope for a better future.
In 2015, for example, the Likud party ran commercials claiming that if Labor won, ISIS would take over Israel. “It’s either us or them,” the Likud’s same slogan went at the time. If the Left won, Likud claimed, terrorism would reign.
Then there was Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s election day appeal, in which he claimed that left-wing organizations were busing Arabs in “droves” to the polls.
Likud had to be reelected and was willing to do whatever it took to achieve that goal, even using racially divisive rhetoric. The new posters hanging in Tel Aviv show that Likud has not changed its ways.
It is also not the only party to engage in fear mongering. Avigdor Liberman’s Israel Beytenu party, in 2015, ran a campaign platform which was about instituting a death penalty in Israel. Naftali Bennett’s Bayit Yehudi party ran a campaign opposed to a Palestinian state with its famous “Stop apologizing” slogan.
This is not unique for Israel. In the United States, for example, the midterms are also about instilling fear within the public. The Democrats are warning what will happen if the Republicans win in the elections, and vice versa. Only in rare instances are politicians and parties talking about what they will do and how they will make life better.
This is the problem with the Israeli election culture and we can assume – based on the past and the current municipal campaigns – that it will only get worse once general elections campaigns begin.
It doesn’t have to be this way. Israelis could demand that their political parties offer messages of hope. Likud, for instance, could talk about what it can do in Tel Aviv if elected, instead of rejecting different populations that live there.
Instead of an “us or them” slogan, the party could talk about what it would do and how it would improve the quality of life of the city’s residents.
The same should happen on a national level. Instead of talking about what they won’t do, the parties should explain to Israelis what they will do and what actions they will take to improve citizens’ lives. Right-wing parties have no problem, for example, saying that they are opposed to a Palestinian state. Rarely though, do they reveal what they would do if they won the election, formed the next coalition and came to power.
The reasoning is simple: It is much easier to talk about what and who you are against, then what and who you support. This way, a politician is not tied down to a specific agenda or platform and can then formulate and adapt its policy based on what happens down the line.
This is not just the difference between positive and negative, but also between fear and hope as well as unity and discord.
Municipal elections are to be held in a few weeks and then general elections sometime in the coming year. What truly matters is moving the country forward. Our politicians should not forget that.