Ready, set, vote!
Hebrew media review

Ready, set, vote!

The Israeli press tells its readers who to vote for, who not to vote for, and what cellphone company to pick

Ilan Ben Zion, a reporter at the Associated Press, is a former news editor at The Times of Israel. He holds a Masters degree in Diplomacy from Tel Aviv University and an Honors Bachelors degree from the University of Toronto in Near and Middle Eastern Civilizations, Jewish Studies, and English.

A prisoner casts his ballot at Rimonim prison near Ra'anana in central Israel on January 22, 2013. (photo credit: Yossi Zeliger/Flash90)
A prisoner casts his ballot at Rimonim prison near Ra'anana in central Israel on January 22, 2013. (photo credit: Yossi Zeliger/Flash90)

On Election Day there are no impartial newspapers. Haaretz paints a grim picture of the day after, when Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is projected to form a new government, and Israel Hayom and Maariv root for the home team and wheedle their readers into voting for the ruling party. Yedioth Ahronoth is stuck in the middle with the rest of us, fed up with the lack of choice. The most prominent candidate featuring in Tuesday’s papers, however, is Cellcom, which runs full-page ads near the front of Israel Hayom, Yedioth Ahronoth, and Maariv with the slogan “choose wisely.”

Maariv leads with a tour around the country asking ordinary Israelis whom they will vote for. The paper initially finds respondents with near-uniform disdain for Netanyahu, his economic policies, and what one person says is his penchant for military excursions. “Leave it alone, Bibi [Netanyahu] is for wars,” Rafik al-Abid Majuarish is quoted saying, after indicating his preference for Shas.

The paper closes its article with two soldiers at a West Bank checkpoint who say that they opted for Netanyahu because of his security credentials. “I connect more to Bennett, but I’ll vote Netanyahu for security,” the sergeant is quoted saying. The corporal concurred. When asked whether they “have dreams, like peace,” the soldiers respond: “Peace? I’ve already given up on it,” and “I cannot even succeed in imagining it.”

The real indicator of the paper’s increasing right-wing perspective is its “Moment before the ballot” article that gives the undecided advice on “how a vote can influence the broadening of Likud.”

“Voting for Likud-Beytenu and turning it into a larger party will enable Netanyahu to assemble a more flexible coalition, and increase his room to maneuver,” it writes. “A Likud-Beytenu with 32 seats looks totally different from a Likud-Beytenu with 40.”

It then informs its readers that voting for Lapid is only useful if he manages to beat out Shas, and that a vote for Kadima (!), which it guarantees will break the threshold, “strengthens one of the two centrist parties that will almost certainly be in the coalition.”

As for the two left-wing parties (Maariv completely ignores the existence of the Arab and minor parties), it says that voting for one of them is merely “sketching the identity of the next opposition.”

“Any left-wing voters interested in a large and strong opposition party” should vote for the Labor Party, it says, and anyone who doesn’t trust Labor leader Shelly Yachimovich to remain out of a Netanyahu coalition should vote Meretz.

If political ads’ locations are an indication of anything, here’s the rundown: Maariv has Jewish Home on Page 3, Likud-Beytenu on Page 5 (directly beneath the advice piece), and Shas on Page 6.

Israel Hayom opens with mini-articles from each of the major candidates giving their last remarks in the press as to why you should vote for them. It then publishes an open letter from singer- comedian-satirical columnist Yair Nitzani, who calls on whichever candidate gets voted in not to disappoint. He entreats the fill-in-the-blank candidate to “be modest like [former Likud prime minister Menachem] Begin, dream like [President Shimon] Peres, personable like [former Labor Party prime minister Yitzhak] Rabin, and stubborn like [Moledet minister Rehavam] ‘Gandi’ [Zeevi] and you will succeed.”

Israel Hayom’s first real news story has Likud-Beytenu calling on its supporters “to return home” and vote for their party. “Sources in Likud-Beytenu expressed great concern that the party will receive even fewer seats than the latest polls showed,” it writes. “A tough atmosphere and a feeling of disappointment prevails in the Likud elections headquarters, even though, despite the drop in the polls, it’s clear Netanyahu will assemble the next government.”

Matti Tuchfeld tells readers on Page 9 (after three full-page ads, Nitzani’s open letter, and President Shimon Peres exhorting Israelis to vote) that the bottom line remains clear: “The next prime minister will be Benjamin Netanyahu. Throughout the whole campaign this was the working assumption of everyone.” He predicts that after the elections Netanyahu will call Shas, the Jewish Home, United Torah Judaism, Yesh Atid and Kadima (in that order) to form a coalition.

Yedioth Ahronoth puts its opinion pieces first in its elections coverage special. Its first 12 pages are devoted to full-page ads and columnists getting their final words in before ballots close. It leads with Nahum Barnea’s opinion column in which he says that the most prominent feature of the 2013 elections is the decline of the established parties — specifically Likud– and the rise of the new faces, Lapid, Jewish Home leader Naftali Bennett, and Yachimovich. He writes that if the polls are accurate, Netanyahu will be forced to work with centrist parties and Likud may not have a majority in the government.

Sima Kadmon writes, “Four years have passed and nothing’s happened. We are in exactly the same place we were on the eve of the last elections, or even worse. There’s no political solution on the horizon; on the contrary, every day that there’s stagnation guarantees a new wave of violence.”

Nonetheless, she calls on her fellow Israelis not to throw up their hands and stay at home, but to go out and vote — even if it’s for someone “who offers them promises that they’ll never fulfill.”

Sever Plotzker, one of the paper’s chief editors, says that the Likud party is moribund and gradually disappearing like all of Israel’s elderly parties. He, like Barnea, notes the disintegration of the ruling party, the fact that older Israelis vote for the party out of force of habit, and the trend among young voters “not to even consider voting Likud.”

“Like the historic Mapai party in its time, so today the historic Likud slowly goes to the old age home,” he says.

Haaretz‘s lead editorial throws a clear punch at the right-wing government it has loathed for four years. It calls on Israelis to vote at “a time when Israel’s democracy faces real and present dangers” from the right-wing government, which “has proven that it intends to undermine the state’s social and governmental institutions… equal rights for all citizens, human rights, the judicial system, freedom of the press, and the right of citizens’ groups to operate unhindered.”

The paper writes that “the vote of every citizen that believes in the way of political Zionism and the values of democracy” — apparently referring to its readers, and not those of other papers — is crucial. Not voting, it says, negatively influences the outcome of the election.

The opposite page features a picture likely to terrify Haaretz readers — the prime minister’s face on billboards — with the headline “The State of Netanyahu.” (Beneath it is an ad for Tzipi Livni’s Hatnua party.) Yossi Verter also argues that Netanyahu will form the next government, but says the question remains which center-left parties will join his government.

Verter writes that three of the major party leaders are run by Netanyahu or his proteges (Likud, Jewish Home and Yisrael Beytenu), and some of the minor party leaders owe their success to the Likud leader as well (Livni).

“We’ve turned into the State of Netanyahu,” he writes, painting a 1984-esque picture. “He controls the broadcast media to a great extent, either directly… or indirectly” and Israel Hayom, which “serves as the Prime Minister’s Office’s mouthpiece, has turned into the country’s most widely read newspaper, one that presents a lovely, rosy picture of what’s happening in the State of Netanyahu, ignoring those dark corners on the left.”

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