HomeMarch 2015In Israeli Elections, Everyone is Family

In Israeli Elections, Everyone is Family

0315meravWhen I attempt to explain Israeli society to people, I tell them there are two cardinal rules:

1. Everybody knows everybody. Without exception. There may be one degree of separation.

2. Regardless of the event, whether it is your kindergarten graduation or the inauguration of a new president or your wedding, the ceremonies are the same. The music you play, the speeches given, the dress code (preferably t-shirt and jeans, you can get away with a button-down and jeans, but never, never wear a tie) are all carbon copies.

The casual yet intimate way Israelis interact contributes to just about every aspect of life in Israel. It explains why you don’t have to be creeped out by the 60-year-old man who wants to buy you a falafel when you’re dressed in uniform. He just wants to reminisce about his days in the army.  It also helps to explain why Israelis squabble like cousins: we pretty much all are.

This also feeds, unfortunately, into the political system. In a few short weeks, Israelis will hit their polling booths and elect the 20th Knesset. In the run-up to the elections, political parties have turned to social media and videos in unprecedented ways. Two early contributions, one released by Benjamin Netanyahu’s Likud party and one by Isaac Herzog and Tzipi Livni’s joint Labor-Hatnua list, campaigning under the name “Zionist Camp,” illustrated just how personal and vicious these parties can get. Where American campaigns usually blame PACs or supporters for the more vitriolic campaign attacks, Israeli parties’ attacks come from the party themselves.

In a video which was banned by Israel’s Central Elections Committee, Likud head Bibi Netanyahu attempts to calm a preschool of misbehaving children meant to portray other party leaders – Bayit Yehudi’s Naftali Bennett, Yesh Atid’s Yair Lapid, Yisrael Beitenu’s Avigdor Liberman, and Hatnua’s Tzipi Livni – with the implication that they would be incapable of running a country. The child-free version of the ad depicts Bibi as a babysitter.

A few days later, Labor-Hatnua responded with a video depicting Netanyahu browsing the popular dating site Tinder. He matches with rightwing Bayit Yehudi’s Bennett. The chat that ensues attempts to show similarities between the two candidates and highlights both men’s rightwing ideologies – support for settlements in the West Bank, Bennett’s vocal opposition to same-sex marriage, and closes with a dig that Bibi benefitted politically from the assassination of Yitzhak Rabin.

However, in a few short weeks, when a coalition must be built, these parties are likely to set their differences aside for political gains. Besides, they’ll probably have to sit around a Seder table together soon.

Merav Ceren was born in Israel, grew up in Southern California, and has now returned home. She holds a BA in International Relations from UCI, where she led the re-establishment of Anteaters for Israel, and is pursuing her Masters in International Relations from Syracuse University.


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