JERUSALEM — With just over 60 days left until Israelis head to the polls, election season is now in full swing. But alongside the typical mudslinging and vying for votes, an unwieldy slew of short, viral video clips are being uploaded by parties and politicians to social media.
And each one seems to be more outrageous than the last.
Let’s start with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, a master at election campaigns. Aside from plastering gigantic posters of himself shaking hands with a beaming President Trump at the entrances to Jerusalem and Tel Aviv, he has also launched his own TV channel.
Promising that it will report only the “truth” and good non-fake news to the public, Netanyahu has dubbed it Likud-TV — even though it is available only on his Facebook page and has had just one broadcast so far, featuring him.
That single segment, which was published live on Sunday evening, was presented by Eliraz Sade, an actor and reality TV star. Sade conducted a carefully constructed interview with the prime minister, who continues to evade interviews with mainstream media outlets, setting him up with questions that enabled him to attack his adversaries and highlight his achievements (including his strong ties with the current U.S. administration).
On a side note, Trump on Monday thanked Netanyahu for the posters via his Instagram account:
But Netanyahu’s election challengers are not that impressed with his campaign so far.
In one of opposition leader Yair Lapid’s videos, he can be seen using a thick black marker to correct the prime minister and the current government’s so-called “accomplishments,” including contentious legislation known as the nation-state law. Lapid is also filmed shredding Netanyahu’s plans for a multimillion-dollar private jet and other extravagances.
Newcomer Benny Gantz, another prime ministerial hopeful, caused his own stir with his first set of videos. Gantz, a former army chief of staff, refrains from attacking Netanyahu — so far his only retort to the prime minister has been, “Thank you for the last decade; we’ll take it from here.” Instead, the retired lieutenant general’s clips focus on his achievements in his military career. In one video, he showcases the eerie and extensive damage caused by Israeli fighter jets in the 2014 war with the militant Islamist group Hamas in the Gaza Strip.
In the clip, Gantz, who named his political party Israel Resilience, boasts about bombing 6,231 targets in the Palestinian enclave and killing 1,364 “terrorists.”
Aside from the clip and his inaugural speech last week, Gantz has remained largely silent. He appears to be following in Netanyahu’s footsteps, refraining from giving interviews to the mainstream media and opting instead to talk to a popular musician and a comedian for a forthcoming feature set to be published Friday in the Yediot Aharonot newspaper.
Beyond the party campaigns, there has also been fierce competition for best video (and apparently best acting) among members of Netanyahu’s ruling Likud faction. The party’s internal primaries are taking place Tuesday.
In one video, the deputy minister for environmental protection, Yaron Mazuz, enlists controversial former soldier Elor Azaria to boost his campaign. Azaria, who remains silent in Mazuz’s short video, was convicted of manslaughter by an Israeli court for the 2014 killing of an already neutralized Palestinian assailant in Hebron.
A polarizing figure in Israeli society, Azaria was released from jail last May after serving nine months. Many Israelis, though, including the most recent former army chief of the staff, retired Lt. Gen. Gadi Eizenkot, remain highly critical of Azaria’s actions. Yet the young ex-convict has a core of staunch right-wing supporters to whom Mazuz is obviously appealing.
“With God and Azaria’s help,” says Mazuz, a smiling Azaria sitting silently beside him, “we will succeed.”
Another controversial video for the Likud primaries is from Knesset member Anat Berko. In the short clip, she appears in an interrogation room being questioned by a shadowy kaffiyeh-covered figure, who allows Berko to state all her legislative achievements over the past session of Israel’s parliament, the Knesset.
“Why have you stopped our heroes from running for the Israeli parliament? Is that democratic? It’s hypocrisy!” her interrogator asks roughly.
Berko answers that she drafted and passed a law preventing those guilty of terrorism from being elected to the Knesset. Seemingly satisfied with her answer, her tormentor pulls off his scarf to reveal he is really Reuven Berko, her husband.
“You’ve passed the test. You’ve proven yourself. You are ready for your next term in the Knesset,” he says. The whole scene then takes a flirtatious turn, as his voice softens, and he offers her coffee.
“Black and strong, just like in the army,” she responds sensually.
Avi Dichter, a Likud Knesset member and former minister, also uses a Palestinian theme to appeal for support. In his 1 ½-minute clip, Dichter, a former director of Israel’s security agency, the Shin Bet, dons a fake mustache and a kaffiyeh and speaks in fluent Arabic to an actor playing Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas.
As “Abbas” shows Dichter a chart detailing payments to Palestinians who have carried out attacks on Israel, the incognito lawmaker whips off his costume and states dramatically: “The gig is up! You thought you could keep paying terrorists, and Israel would continue to sleep? The law I passed in the Knesset puts an end to all that.”
But on Sunday, the Jerusalem Post named Public Security Minister Gilad Erdan’s video series as “best picture” in the current batch of campaign clips.
Employing his wife and children, Erdan can be seen bouncing on a trampoline, wearing a floral apron in the kitchen and even playing a game of Fortnite with his son as he heaps praise on other Likud candidates — a clever ploy to get more viewers and, he hopes, more supporters.
While it remains unclear whether any of these campaign videos will yield greater support for parties or individuals, one thing is certain: Politicians should probably stay away from acting.