Israel is in the middle of a close national election, and the candidates are battling for laughs as parties jostle to win over a fragmented and undecided electorate.
The abundance of sort-of-funny ads and dumb gimmicks is all online. Israeli law forbids televised campaign ads until just three weeks before the March 17 vote. (Hint, hint America.)
There’s the new game app ad called “Bibi Bird.” A parody of the popular, addictive game “Flappy Bird,” it was put up by the Yesh Atid (There is a Future) Party and designed to deny Prime Minister Benjamin “Bibi” Netanyahu a historic fourth term.
In the "game," currently available on Android smartphones, a black screen repeatedly slams down on Netanyahu’s flapping head, telling the gamer that Bibi-Bird’s score is “zero.” Meaning: He has failed to pass a state budget, provide for the elderly, for hardworking parents. All the while, Bibi-Bird squawks “Iran!” “nuclear weapons!” “ISIS!”
Satire and humor has always had a place in Israel’s election campaigns, but now that short, snappy videos can quickly go viral, drawing mass audiences and driving home sharp political slogans, Israeli leaders are turning to the format in a big way.
Netanyahu himself has been more than ready to show his own comical chops. Last week, he launched his party’s election campaign by playing himself in a skit. The prime minister rings the doorbell at the home of a surprised couple, announcing, “You called for a baby-sitter? You got a Bibi-sitter."
The wife asks, “You’re going to take care of our children?”
Netanyahu responds that the only alternatives would be his main opponents: the leader of the Labor Party, Isaac Herzog, and former peace negotiator Tzipi Livni.
In the clip, the couple shake their heads, “No, no, no...!”
They joke that the children would have to take care of Herzog. Meaning: He’s weak. “By the time we got home, we wouldn’t have a house left,” they say. Meaning: He would give away too much to make peace. And as for Livni? “Stay in one place more than two hours?” they laugh. Meaning: She’s a party switcher who can’t be trusted.
(The Bibi-sitter was panned by “The Daily Show with Jon Stewart,” whose host shrugged, “Turns out, Jews can’t be funny in every country.”)
The Bibi-sitter ad was preceded by another comical commercial in which Netanyahu portrayed himself as a kindergarten teacher trying to break up squabbles between his coalition partners. That spot was quickly yanked offline after being ruled illegal by the election committee because of the use of children, who were dressed to resemble some of his key cabinet members.
Not to be seen as lacking a sense of humor themselves, Herzog and the Labor Party responded in kind. Their latest ad uses a clip from the “Bibi-sitter,” showing Netanyahu sitting on a couch munching from a bowl of popcorn as he watches television.
The TV shows images of Hamas rockets raining down on Israeli communities to the sound of sirens wailing and Netanyahu chortling.
The announcer intones: “As Bibi works on his comedy routine, we are living a tragedy.”
Maybe it is funnier in Hebrew.
Not to be outdone, hard-line Economy Minister Naftali Bennett and his Jewish Home Party released an ad titled “Treatment for Our Country.” It shows a patient in a hospital bed. He’s been in a coma for 20 years.
Doctor in a white lab coat: “What have you given him?”
Nurse: “Oslo A, Oslo B, Hebron Accords, Wye Accords, the disengagement, Annapolis ...” (all references to the agreements meant to reach a peace deal with the Palestinians).
Doctor: “Yes, I see. These things haven’t been working for quite some time.” He hands him a prescription that reads: “Stop apologizing. It’s time for Bennett.”
With 40 days until the election, it remains to be seen who will have the last laugh.