With only a few days left until the May 17 general election. Israel's 22 political parties - some of them with slates of only one candidate - are running like hounds in full cry and the propaganda war in the press, radio and television is getting more vociferous daily.
"Each us . . . gets up in the morning, picks up his weapons and starts shooting in all directions," said the Labor Party's information chief, Hossi Sarid, in a recent newspaper interview . "Maybe we will get lucky and hit something."
Most of the hitting is being done by the ruling Labor Party and its major opposition. Likud. The third major party. Yigael Yadin's New Democratic Movement for Change, appears to be learning fast in the techniques of campaign advertising.
There is very little subtlety in the campaign broadsides. Likud recently ran a TV ad showing two men in coats and ties stuffing themselves in a fancy restaurant and swilling champagne. The two were supposed to be Labor Party big shots and a voice says. "And this is how the leaders of the workers live."
In relentlessly egalitarian and socialist Israel, even a coat and tie - never mind the champagne - suggest stuck-up rich exploiting the working classes. Labor personalities have recently been involved in financial scandals and charges of corruption.
Labor recently ran a campaign ad on TV suggesting that if Likud won, troops would be called out to beat up strikers. Film clips showing helmeted men with clubs drove the point home.
Israel's campaign rules allow for only about 11 hours of TV advertising time for all political parties combined during the last three weeks of the campaign. Time is apportioned on the basis of how many seats each party had in the last parliament. This means that Labor has about 3 1/2 hours of TV time, Likud nearly three, and Yadin's party only a total of 10 minutes - the same given to any new party, no matter how big. Yadin's party has complained bitterly about this and has run newspaper ads showing a television set being burned up by Labor and Likud.
There is also a campaign law that prohibits television news and movie theater news reels from showing any candidate in the final 30 days before an election, even if the gandidate is part of a genuine news event. The idea is to keep politicians from manufacturing news events in order to get on television. This leads to situations where TV crews deliberately keep their cameras off the action while somebody in the studio paraphrases what the prime minister has said.
Recently, when Likud leader Menachim Begin speaking in Parliament, accused the government of waste and inefficiency in the armed forces, Likud had its own camera crew there and showed the film as part of its alloted advertising time. Thus Likud could also make the point that Begin, who recently suffered a heart attack, was well enough to give the government hell again.
Since the law prohibiting the showing of candidates also applies to movie theaters, Likud is furious that "Operation Thunderbolt," a movie about the Eentebbe raid that uses film clips on national leaders who are now Labor candidates, is allowed to play in theaters throughout the country so close to the election.
Recently labor ran a TV ad that tried to show how Likud, which opposes giving up territory in the occupied West Bank, has actually done very little to establish Jewish settiements in the occupied territories. The Jerusalem post's TV critic said the ad showed Likud as "townees who talk big but cannot make the enormous effort needed to become agricultural workers in remote spots . . ."
The Black panthers, a small left-wing party, recently showed films of slum children without running water juxtaposed to a poodle being given a shampoo. The "social gap" is a major campaign issue in Israel and one that all parties promise to close.
The Labor Party recently published a newspaper ad listing the addresses of the top 10 candidates on Yadin's party's slate, with the question, "Is this where you live?" Eight out of the 10 addresses were in the fashionable quarters and suburbs of Jerusalem and Tel Aviv.
The Democratic Movement for Change, sensitive about being a party of reform-minded but nonetheless well-educated and well-off liberals, struck back by printing the names and addresses of six Labor Cabinet ministers plus that of former Foreign Minister Abba Eban, a leading Labor's candidate. The addresses were in the same fashionable Jerusalem and Tel Aviv quarters.
Likud is working hard to change the image of its leader. Begin, from a uncompromising and rather ruthless old resistance leader into an avuncular old family man and world statesman. This campaign must be worrying Labor. Recently they ran an ad saying that showing Begin "holding up babies for circumcision" would not be enough to convince voters to vote Likud.