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Americanization in Propaganda on Israeli Television / תהליך האמריקניזציה בתעמולת הבחירות בטלוויזיה בישראל

ברוך לשם and Baruch Leshem
Kesher / קשר
No. 34 (אביב 2006), pp. 142-150
Stable URL: http://www.jstor.org/stable/23918982
Page Count: 9
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Americanization in Propaganda on Israeli Television / תהליך האמריקניזציה בתעמולת הבחירות בטלוויזיה בישראל
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Abstract

Political advertising on Israeli television may provide a litmus test for the development of the country's political system. Initially, the country had a firm and rigid party system that seemed immune to the changes in and depreciation of the status of parties in Europe and the U.S. in recent decades. Since then, Israel's parties have been losing ground in inverse proportion to gains in the power of television as a main purveyor of American-style political propaganda and a significant mediator between candidates and the electorate. One may debate whether it was television that actually dealt the parties' status a direct blow, since additional political and social reasons for this development may be listed. There is no doubt, however, that television stepped effectively into the void that was created by the disintegration of the parties' apparatus and largely replaced them. This fact makes the status of political advertising on Israeli television, particularly between 1981 to 1999, very significant for two main reasons. First, the parties of the Right and the Left-wing bloc were in electoral equilibrium during these years. Election campaigns during those years were decided by the shift of several thousand votes from one bloc to the other. In the 1992 elections, for example, the Labor Party candidate, Yitzhak Rabin, won by dint of approximately 20,000 voters who gave him one additional mandate. In 1996, Benjamin Netanyahu, the Likud candidate, won by a margin of 30,000 votes. Studies cited in the article show that the campaign propaganda induced only a small percent of voters to change their views. However, since it also took only a small percent to swing an election, the propaganda broadcasts during those years should be treated very seriously. Until 1999, it was forbidden by law to show politicians' likenesses on ordinary TV shows during the thirty days proceeding Election Day. Therefore, most televised propaganda during the period at issue took place in the form of special campaign broadcasts, on which the public focused its attention. When the ban was lifted, the propaganda spilled into newscasts and current-events programs, which commanded greater public interest than series of propaganda clips did. This is evident in the steady decline in the viewership ratings of campaign broadcasts since then. The political system will have to consider additional and new ways to generate interest in the televised political propaganda broadcasts. One possibility is to adopt the American system of political advertising on television, i.e., paid spots in the middle of newscasts and other high-rating programs. Another arena that may be developed is the Internet, which offers a combination of text and video. This medium, which has gained much exposure in Israel in recent years, would allow the parties to segment their target populations more finely. An old-new rival to television may surface in the upcoming election campaign, which will almost certainly revolve around the question of removing additional Jewish settlements in the West Bank. On the basis of the experience amassed in a 2004 plebiscite among hundreds of thousands of Likud members about the disengagement from Gaza, and during the disengagement itself in 2005, tens of thousands of settlers visit Israelis' homes to persuade them to vote against the evacuation of the settlements. This trend will gather strength when the political battle shifts to struggle over settlements in Judea and Samaria, which the settlers consider the heart of the Land of Israel. Is it possible that the era of American-style political advertising on television, the main factor in election campaigns in Israel, will give way to the hoary marketing method of person-to-person propaganda and face-to-face persuasion? Politics, of course, is the art of the possible, but Israeli politics, as the past has shown, may be the art of the impossible.

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