'Hope and Change' Crash in the Israeli Election

There are several things about the Israeli elections that no one is talking about, except for Dry Bones. Whatever the Congressional investigation turns up, it is clear that the U.S. government intervened massively in the election, with millions of dollars from the State Department paid out to legions of American media consultants and campaign advisers who served Obama’s own campaigns. Their influence was obvious to Americans familiar with U.S. media people and it became apparent to Israelis also. It did not go down well. The Herzog-Livni campaign had “American media adviser” written all over it. Remember Bob Newhart’s piece, “Abe Lincoln vs Madison Avenue”? It played out in this campaign and it did not sell.

First, they decided to drop Herzog’s nickname, “Buji,” in favor of the authoritative sounding “Herzog.” It has a better ring, sounds commanding and resonates with his illustrious forebears. His grandfather was Ashkenazi Chief Rabbi and his father was President of Israel, among other things. His uncle, Ya’akov Herzog was a senior career diplomat and adviser to prime ministers and another uncle, Abba Eban, was well known to the world and widely remembered for his defense of Israel in the United Nations during the Six-Day War. Buji is one of the princes of Labor Zionism. 

On the other hand, he has always been known as “Buji” and Israelis think nothing of using infantile nicknames all their lives. Israel has had Arik Sharon (“Arik” is like “Ricky”) and Bibi Netanyahu, and Bougie Ya’alon and the country is full of people named Shuki (Yehoshua) and Muki (Shmuel) and Dudu (David) and Doobie (Dov) and Momo (Shlomo) and Yuckie (Ya’akov) and Tsippi and Etti (Esther) and Rootie (Ruth) and so many others. Imagine General George Patton being known as “Georgie.” American media advisers could never accept that but in Israel, it’s quite normal. To suddenly banish “Buji” in favor of “Herzog” strikes Israelis as pompous.

Even worse, Buji has a high-pitched voice. That’s anathema to American media advisers but Israelis think nothing of it. There was a left-wing politico here until about 20 years ago named Uzi Bar’am. He had several speech defects. He lisped badly and he lolled. He couldn’t even pronounce his own name.  It came out “Uthi Ba-wom.” He could have had another career as the Hebrew voice of Elmer Fudd. He was interviewed on TV on occasion and Israelis took him quite seriously. No one mocked his speech defects. I never heard such a thing, not even in private. It doesn’t reveal his character or his intellect or the quality of his ideas and it doesn’t matter to Israelis. But it matters a great deal to American media advisers. They produced a video for the campaign with an actor lip-syncing a voice-over and Buji mouthing the words. They never ran it a second time. That’s phony. That’s what Israelis call a “bluff,” a façade, and that is something they do care about.  It certainly did not win him any votes.

Furthermore, it turned out that Israelis also knew about the money that the Obama folks were pouring into the campaign to defeat Netanyahu and they did not like it. That is interesting because it is not the first time the U.S. government blatantly interfered in Israeli elections. Bush 41 intervened massively in the election in 1992, when Shamir was defeated by Rabin. Israelis saw Bush and Baker as visceral anti-Semites but they trusted America and they trusted Rabin. In 1999, Clinton intervened massively in the election, sending a great deal of money and his top political adviser, James Carville, to manage Barak’s election campaign. Israelis trusted the United States and they trusted Clinton.  And the Israelis dumped Bibi in favor of Ehud Barak. This time, however, there is no trust. Obama has been so consistently so obnoxious toward Israel that people know it is not Bibi that Obama hates but Israel. They do not trust him and seeing how quickly and how completely he has poisoned U.S.-Israel relations, they can no longer trust America.

The “Obama Camp” correctly perceived that people are experiencing “Bibi fatigue” and they decided on “Anyone but Bibi,” obviously an adaptation of “Anyone but Bush,” which was successful in the U.S. in 2008. They offered no program, no ideas, nothing specific, just grousing. “Israelis are despondent. We will bring hope.” ”Nothing is happening.  Israel needs change.” (Right. They actually used “hope and change,” although not as a single phrase.) “Israel needs revolution.” (They actually used the image of Che Guevara, at one rally, at least.) “Hope and change” and grousing worked in America in 2008 but it did not work in Israel in 2015. Israelis were not willing to elect someone just because he is not the other guy. They saw how that worked out in America and decided they ain’t buyin’ no pig in no poke. The negativity of the campaign was disgusting. The Israeli media were as obnoxious toward Bibi as was Obama. Their coverage was consistently biased, relentless, unprincipled, and unfair. And, given the chance to compare him with the other candidates, voters preferred Bibi for prime minister by about a 35% margin, according to the polls.

And a word about the public opinion polls. They were laughable. As soon as the voting booth closed, they announced the results of their exit polls. They were radically different one from another, which means they had no clue what had happened. I am sure the polls are manipulated and that their purpose is to mislead. In every election, it seems that they come to believe their own manipulated polls. And then, after every election, they are on TV the next evening, with egg all over their faces, blaming it on the Israeli voters because they lied. Well, good morning, Sunshine! Israelis always lie to pollsters. Always did. If the pollsters can’t figure out the pattern of the lying; who lies, to what extent, in what direction, for what goal; then they should just open up shoe stores or car washes or find some other way to earn an honest living. 

In the end, Obama and the Israeli media lost the election. Bibi did not really win it. He was just the boot the voters used to kick Obama and the media in the face.