Navigate to News section

Campaign Videos Stir Controversy in Israel

As Knesset elections near, online ads get heated—and some get banned

Tal Trachtman Alroy
February 03, 2015

Making sense of the Israeli elections is a difficult task. With a vast array of political parties to choose from, and with each throwing blame and pointing fingers at the others, the election season can be confusing, disheartening, and terribly amusing for news consumers and voters alike.

More than in past election years, the main arena for the March 2015 election is the Internet. Viral campaign videos are being released on social media platforms and have become candidates’ main tool for spreading political messages, getting back at opponents, and getting voters “engaged.” While this year’s videos are just as humorous—or not, depending on who’s watching—as in past years, they’ve sparked legal controversies as campaign season heats up.

This weekend, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu released his newest campaign video, dubbed the “BibiSitter,” which has garnered more than 260,000 views on YouTube in 48 hours. In the video, a couple getting ready for a night out is surprised to find Prime Minister Netanyahu knocking at their front door.

“Did you order a babysitter?” Netanyahu asks. “You got a Bibi-sitter!”

The shocked couple proceeds to ask the Prime Minister why he, with all due respect, would watch over their children. Netanyahu, smirking, says, “Look, it’s either me or Tzipi and Bougie,” referring to his rivals Tzipi Livni and Isaac “Bougie” Herzog campaigning on a joint slate in the upcoming elections.

The couple laughs off the suggestion, saying their children would need to babysit Herzog, not the other way around. “By the time we have come back, we’d have no house… he would even hand over the carpets—a play on the Hebrew words “shtichim” (carpets) and “shtachim” (occupied territories). They then mock Tzipi Livni’s switching from one political party to the other, saying she wouldn’t last anywhere for two hours. Netanyahu chimes in: “By the time you get back she’d probably move to the neighbors.”

After the couple goes out for the night, Netanyahu is seen sitting in the couple’s living room, seemingly entertained while watching his Likud party’s earlier banned campaign video, “Bibi’s Kindergarten.” The video shows Netanyahu as a kindergarten teacher trying to control rowdy children fighting with one another in a classroom. The most raucous children in the video are named Tzipi, Yair, and Naftali, named after Netanyahu’s rivals from his former coalition, Tzipi Livni, Yair Lapid, and Naftali Bennett.

Judge Salim Joubran, chairman of the Central Election Committee, banned the kindergarten video from being broadcast after rival parties Yesh Atid and the Movement for the Quality of Government in Israel filed a joint petition. Joubran cited Likud’s use of children under the age of 15 in the video as “opportunistic and cynical” and illegal, and ordered the Likud party to pay 5,000 NIS (roughly $1,300). Likud members said in response that although they received permission to film the children from their legal guardians, the video was leaked online “by accident.” Joubran rejected their claim, asking why they would film a video they had no intention of releasing publicly.

On Sunday, Joubran announced he was banning a second video, this time from Naftali Bennett’s Bayit Hayehudi, or Jewish Home party. The video is an ad for former chief IDF rabbi Avichai Rontzki, who is campaigning for the party’s 13th seat. The Central Elections Committee ruled that Rontzki and the Jewish Home party had to pull the video since it featured former and current military officers praising Rontzki, and Israel’s election law forbids political campaigns to associate the military with a political party. Joubran’s decision was made in response to a petition filed by the army’s election officer, Colonel Effi Rozen, who said the officers who appeared in the video had been filmed during Rontzki’s military service and didn’t know their words would be used for campaign purposes. The party removed the video from YouTube and said that it was meant for internal primary elections.

Tal Trachtman Alroy is an intern at Tablet.