In a short video posted on YouTube this morning, a somewhat creepy-looking hipster in plaid, with a full beard, glasses, and cap stumbles around Tel Aviv’s Rothschild Boulevard, apologizing profusely for anything and everything that happens through no fault of his own, be it a car accident or coffee spilt on him. While in the United States these apologies might be seen as just being overly polite, in Israel it is the clear mark of a spineless lefty. When the man reads, in Haaretz, the translation of a New York Times editorial—Haaretz and the Times, those twin evils!—calling on Israel to apologize for the 2011 flotilla incident, he says: “they’re right!”
Finally, he pulls off his beard and ironic baseball hat. The hipster is revealed to be Naftali Bennett, Minister of the Economy, senior member of the Cabinet and leader of the right-wing Habayit Hayheudi, or Jewish Home party.
“Starting today,” Bennett says, “we stop apologizing. Join Habayit Hayehudi today.”
Senior Israeli leaders have demonstrated a good sense of humor in the past. Sometimes to bizarre effect, as when Tzipi Livni–taking a page from Lena Dunham’s 2012 election playbook–coached a pair of teens on the importance of guaranteeing that their “first time” was with the right person. Just a few months ago, freshly-retired President Shimon Peres posted a faux job-hunting video that went viral. But none have gone quite as all-out as Bennett.
Tel Aviv is fair game for Bennett’s admittedly good-natured roasting. Just 10,482 of the city’s residents–accounting for 4 percent of Tel Aviv ballots–voted for Habayit Hayehudi (one fifth of Yair Lapid’s nearly 51,000 votes). And even if Bennett hopes to draw more secular votes come Knesset elections this March, in part by running non-religious candidates, he runs little risk of offending anyone. After all, the “Tel-Aviv bubble” narrative is entrenched enough in Israel that even many Tel Aviv residents wear it as a badge of honor. What’s more, the spot is not an election advertisement per se. Rather, it is a plug for Habayit Hayehudi’s membership drive, and as such is designed to appeal to Bennett’s hardcore following (after registering online and paying the NIS 39.90 registration, new members will be able to vote in the party’s imminent primaries).
Bennett’s popularity may very well exceed Prime Minister Netanyahu’s, and he is a serious contender for premiership in post-Netanyahu era. Still, he could very well be missing his calling. He’s almost unrecognizable in costume, and his comic timing is perfect. After rejuvenating Israel’s right wing, he would do well to breathe new life into Israeli right-wing satire, which is usually dwarfed by its competitors on the left. At the very least, his effort bodes well for the March 2015 campaign ad season. Israeli election campaigns often tend towards virulence. In a country cursed with far-too-frequent elections, truly entertaining campaigns are a rare blessing.
Tal Kra-Oz is a writer based in Tel Aviv.