The General Election of 1996 marked a change in the government of Israel. It also illustrated the potential influence of propaganda and media in determining political agenda and creating images. At the time of the election Israel was at a crossroads; political propaganda was to provide an illustration of the alternative routes that the society could embrace. Israel was caught in a three way quandary. It was called upon to resolve not only the nature of the Peace Process but whether it sought to be a country whose principles were based on western or 'traditional' values. Furthermore, whether it was a part of a multinational community or stood uniquely for Jewish interest.
On May 29th 1996 the Israeli electorate was called upon to reconcile its perception of its past history with a new Middle East. Propaganda provided the forum for debate. The purpose of this lecture is to examine the election campaign of the Labor and Likud parties in order to ascertain the extent of the power of propaganda.
Propaganda does not work in isolation. The "existing stream" that Huxley referred to (see Lecture 1) was a complicated matter. Israeli society prior to the election had been stretched to its limits by the assassination of Yitzhak Rabin. The loss of Rabin struck at the very heart of Israeli society as the Prime minister assassin was not a Palestinian, but a Jew. This fact contradicted the very essence of the meaning of Zionism: a creation of a Jewish State where the Jewish people would be free from danger in their own land. Moreover, Yigal Amir was not a deranged lunatic acting on the command of voices in his head, but a law student of middle class national religious background. He had served in a combat unit and studied at Yeshiva.
The slaying of Rabin caused a vacuum and paralysis in Israeli society. This vacuum was to be filled by popular myth. Rabin in death become a national symbol. The symbol of Rabin as a "martyr for peace" touched national sentiment as it was a perception that many Israelis had of themselves.
The Creation of Rabin as a National Symbol.
It is possible to ascertain three distinct factors after the assassination of Rabin that contributed towards the creation of the symbol of Rabin, namely: The Song of Peace, the speech of Noa Ben Arsti Filosof at the funeral of Rabin and the coining of the phrase "shalom chaver" or "good-bye friend " by President Clinton.
Prior to his murder, Rabin and Peres had addressed a peace rally in Tel Aviv. In the closing moments of the rally, Shimon Peres and Rabin had sung together a song of peace. The words were to echo not only the hope of those present but to mark the beginning of the creation of the symbol of Rabin in death:
He whose candle was snuffed out
And was buried in the dust
A bitter cry won't wake him
Won't bring him back
Nobody will return us
From the dead dark pit
Here - neither the victory cheer
Nor songs of praise will help
So - sing only a song for peace
Do not whisper a prayer
Better sing a song for peace
With big shout
Let the sun penetrate
Through the flowers
Don't look backward
Leave those who departed
Lift your eyes with hope
Not through the rifle sights
Sing a song for love
And not for wars
Don't say the day will come
Bring the day because it is not a dream
And within all the city's squares
Cheer only peace
In his eulogy of Rabin, Eitan Haber explained the significance of the song:
"Five minutes before the man who shot drew his gun, you sang "The Song of Peace" from a lyric sheet which was handed to you in order, like you always said, (that you would) not mumble the words. Yitzhak, you know you had a thousand good qualities, a thousand advantages, you were great, yet singing was not your strong point. You faked the words just a little bit during the song and afterwards, folded the page into four equal parts, as always, and put it into your jacket pocket. In the hospital, after the doctors and nurses had cried, they handed me the paper which they found in your jacket pocket."
The bullets that killed Rabin had penetrated the page that had been placed folded in his jacket pocket and on which the words to "The Song of Peace" had been written . A poet could not have created a better symbol to encapsulate the feeling of a nation.
The funeral of Yitzhak Rabin was to be attended by world leaders and the international press. The mourning of a nation was witnessed through the lens of a camera. The burial of Rabin was ultimately a media affair. Indeed two further symbols of Rabin were created at the funeral by the eulogies of those present. After the address of Noa Ben Artzi, Rabin was to become the grandfather of the nation:
"Grandfather, you were, and still are our, hero. I want you to know that in all I have ever done, I have always seen you before my eyes. Your esteem and love accompanied us in every step and on every path, and we lived in the light of your values. You never abandoned us, and now they have abandoned you -- you, my eternal hero -- cold and lonely, and I can do nothing to save you, you who are so wonderful."
When President Clinton wished his friend a final farewell a second powerful symbol was created.
"The Kaddish, the Jewish prayer for mourning, never speaks of death, but often speaks of peace. In its closing words, may our hearts find a measure of comfort and our souls, the eternal touch of hope. Ya'ase shalom bimromav, hu ya'ase shalom aleinu, ve-al kol Israel, ve-imru, amen. Shalom, haver."
Following this speech "shalom chaver" or "good-bye/peace friend" became a slogan that reunited a nation. Days after the murder it could be discovered on car stickers, posters and T shirts all around Israel.
The symbol of Rabin after death as martyr for peace and the grandfather of the nation was to prove as problematic for the Labor party campaign as for their opponents in the Likud.
"Israel Is Stronger With Peres."
The Labor Party approached the 1996 General Election with a sense of confidence approaching impudence. Chaim Ramon, who had run successfully against his own party for the leadership of the Histradrut, had rejoined the party and was appointed head of the Labor's election campaign.
From the outset Labor decided to run a very low key campaign. Peres, it was held, would win and all that was necessary was to play for time. The Labor Party had internal opinion polls to support its confidence in a Peres victory. Yet it was this very sense of over confidence that blinded Labor Party managers to many of the problems within their own campaign.
The decision by Peres to defer the election for six months after the murder of Rabin on November 4, 1995 returned Israeli society from the brink. He claimed with credibility that an election at that point would have divided Israel further at a time when the need for reunification was of the essence. Yet by deferring the election Peres provided time for Hamas to renew its terrorist activity against Israeli civilian targets and lacking Rabin's military background, Peres was more vulnerable to criticism. Terrorism is an explicit form of propaganda. It provides scenes of bloodshed for political end.
The use of suicide bombers was not new to Israel. Indeed, Islamic terrorism had provided the catalyst for much of the division with Israeli society that preceded Rabin's assassination. Yet the terror campaign preceding the election is Israel was a central contributing factor to the fall of the Labor Party. Hamas was to attack three times in less than ten days. On March 26, 1996, bus 18 was to be blown up by a suicide bomber in the height of the Jerusalem rush hour. Despite stringent security measures and full cooperation with the Palestinian Authority, Hamas attacked the same bus, at the same time, a week later. The next day a Hamas suicide bomber blew himself up outside the Dizengoff Center in the heart of Tel Aviv, killing twenty five people and injuring over one hundred.
Israeli television filmed the attacks live and in a manner more graphic than their foreign counterparts. Television brought the carnage of terrorism to the living room of the Israeli electorate. In the month immediately before the election, there was no bombing and no need for a bombing. Hamas was successful in creating the atmosphere, encapsulated by the Likud propaganda slogan: "There's no peace, there's no security, there's no reason to vote Peres." The claim by Labor that "Israel is stronger with Peres" appeared erroneous.
The Labor Party campaign sought to create the image of Peres as a national leader. They sought to contrast this with Netanyhu's perceived lack of experience. Peres, however, did not have a good track record. He had lost four previous elections and was distrusted by many Israelis. He was overshadowed by the symbol of his predecessor whose eulogy had left him appearing as a second rate alternative.
Labor's propaganda sought to portray Peres as continuing the message of Rabin. Election commercials claimed "Israel was stronger with Peres" to the tune of their 1992 election single of "Israel is waiting for Rabin". Moreover, Peres was portrayed with youth; the young generation that attended the peace rallies prior to the assassination. By associating Peres with the hope of a future, it was assumed that his opponent would be associated with the fear of the past. The Labor campaign refused to recognize that the symbol of a new Middle East had itself not been embraced by many Israelis. Hamas made the future appear more fearful than the past.
Peres, unlike Rabin, lacked military experience. Consequently, his media advisors were to lose no opportunity in providing photo opportunities of Peres speaking to Israeli soldiers. Indeed, the military operation against Hizbullah, 'Operation Grapes of Wrath', enabled Peres to appear militaristic and firm on terror; characteristics that his predecessor utilized to his advantage. Yet this military operation was to backfire. At Kfar Kana, Israel succeeded to kill, by accident, one hundred civilians in a refugee camp. The killings at Kfar Kana were to estrange many of Labor's traditional voters, namely Israeli Arabs.
The Netanyhu-Peres Television Debate.
In the 1996 Israel changed its electoral system. Israelis directly elected the Prime Minister as well as the party of their choice. Consequently, the question of personal credibility was to become crucial for both candidates to prove. A turning point in the election campaign was provided by the television debate between Shimon Peres and Netanyhu. Peres at 73 years of age seemed old in comparison to his rival. Netanyhu, trained in communication, rehearsed the debate,answering with prepared statements. Peres, in contrast, appeared tired and his answers lacked direction. Indeed, an internal Labor party document released after the election estimated that the debate lost the Labor Party upto 60,000 votes. Television, as a deciding factor in Israeli elections, had come of age.
Netanyhu: Will Bring A Secure Peace.
The Likud propaganda machined faced a difficult task. The assassination of Rabin had witnessed a swing in the polls of a 17 percent lead for Labor. A month before the election Peres was leading consistently by 5 percent. Yet the campaign was a well organized operation and from the beginning a number of important decision were to be made. With the advice of American media advisors, it was decided that the Likud would run a negative propaganda campaign with a few clear, short slogans. This tactic was facilitated by Labor's ambivalence in message.
The future of Jerusalem was to be a central plank in the propaganda of Likud. Peres it was argued would, if elected, divide Jerusalem. Jerusalem had been correctly identified as a central concern of the electorate. Ironically the issue of Jerusalem had favored Labor under Rabin, who had been depicted liberating Jerusalem and returning to the Western Wall. Jerusalem's future was to be negotiated as part of the Oslo 3 talks, Peres it was argued could not be trusted to guarantee Israel's control over the city.
Likud also claimed that Arafat and Peres were an untrustworthy team. Arafat had not kept to his promises and Peres was too keen to meet his demands. Arafat had not changed his message in Arabic of the desire to create a Palestinian State with Jerusalem as the Capital. It was only in English that he appeared more moderate.This was graphically displayed nightly with one clip of film used ceaselessly to portray this point.
The slogan of the Likud campaign reflected athe growing desire in Israel for an end to violence, a return of security and a continuation of the peace process. Israel wanted peace, but a secure peace. Only Netanyhu, Likud propaganda asserted, could bring this combination. The message was to be repeated daily on the screens of Israeli televisions,in newspaper advertisements and on banners hung around the country.
The Likud successfully cultivated the religious vote in Israel. This was facilitated by labor's affiliation with the secular Meretz Party. Two days before the campaign the Chabad movement produced stickers declaring "Netanyhu is good for Jews", reintroducing the theme that Labor was dependent on Arab votes and good will.
The Likud campaign was not without problems. Great effort was made to create an image of Netanyhu as national leader and to counter the claim of Labor that he was not suitable. Netanyhu was presented speaking in a studio set very similar to the Presidential Oval Office.His political rival Davi Levy was portrayed in the televised jingle of the party. It is imporant to denote that the election advertisements of the Likud represented the final stage in the transformation of Netanyhu's image that began after Rabin's assassination namely the transformation from leader of the Opposition to Statesmen.
The 1996 Election campaign, is significant in the study of propaganda. As we have seen the Likud election commercials were successful in identifying existing trends in Israeli society and directing them in their favor. It created an image of its leader as a national leader,providing an alternative to continued Hamas attacks. Consequently, Likud won what was considered by Labor as the election that Labor could not be lost.