ELECTIONS IN ISRAEL: A CHANGE IN THE COMMUNICATIONS PARADIGM; INSTUSH AND THE NEW WAY OF CAMPAIGNING

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By: Diego “Charno” Charnovich

Much has been said about the upcoming elections in Israel on April 9. Some things will never change and will remain topics of interest for the public for years to come. There are always speculations regarding the different coalitions that could be formed, the pollsters who, with their different “scientific” methods, inflate or reduce the numbers to one side or the other, the media that covers what is “most convenient” to its interests, and the accusations between candidates. This equation resurfaces decade after decade, and I believe this phenomenon is common to many countries around the world when it comes to elections.

In this Deotenu, I will not delve into political issues or the ideas of each party, which by the way, in the campaigns we see so far, there are more accusations toward the rival candidate than strategic ideas and plans regarding how to lead this country in the coming years. My idea, as a communications specialist, is to focus on the different campaigns, but more importantly, on the media in which they are made.

A brief introduction: In the ’60s, the Canadian philosopher and media theory professor Marshall McLuhan (very well known among communications scholars), coined the famous phrase: “The medium is the message”*. McLuhan believed that if the medium changes, the
message is distorted and captured by the public differently. Medium and Message work together, and in many cases, the message to be
conveyed is less relevant than the medium through which it is transmitted.

*A phrase taken from the book The Medium is the Message, McLuhan, Jerome Angel, 1988.

Where am I going with this introduction?

In recent years, one of the most influential mass media social networks are Facebook and Instagram, or Instush as our Israeli friends call it. I say one of the social networks, since as we all know, Instagram belongs to Facebook, and although they are two different networks, they use the same mechanisms for advertisement.

Nowadays, the majority of youths under the age of thirty are nourished by information provided by social media (Instagram mainly, in 2019), and for this age group, TV with its classic advertising is becoming obsolete.

New technologies have gained huge popularity. They bring more
pictures and videos, less writing and more exposure to private life
to larger masses.

This had brought a radical change to the political propaganda
produced during these elections that we have never seen before in
Israel (we have seen it in the U.S. with Donald Trump’s social
media campaigns). In the current elections we can simply see upto-date publications of the different candidates and parties on Instagram.
Blue and White party leader, Benny Gantz, one of the primary candidates of these elections, made his first post less than two months ago. The same happened with the Avodah party leader, Avi Gabay, who has only been using Instagram for a year and a half. Also, for the first time, the budget allocated to social media almost equals that used for traditional media, whether it be television, radio or static advertising on buses and streets. We can clearly see that there are fewer and fewer photoshopped posters of the candidates’ faces.

The contrast of the previously-mentioned methods is the new way of campaigning. Fewer photoshopped and studio images and more “real” videos of the candidates with the publicor opening their house doors and using homemade mobile phone footage. I write “real” in
quotation marks because obviously these videos are planned and produced to look real, as a strategy of those in charge of the campaigns of the different parties.

We know the elections in Israel are parliamentary, so the voter chooses the party with which he/she identifies the most, unlike the presidential system where the voters directly choose the candidate they want as president. In Israel, the voters are aware of who the
leaders of the parties (who were elected by party members or the general public in the primary election) they vote for are and who wish to occupy the position of prime minister as long as they manage to form a coalition and govern. But theoretically, there is one vote
for the party and its members.

Something that caught my attention on Instagram is that the private accounts of the party leaders have more followers than the accounts of the party itself. If we take Netanyahu as an example, he has more than half a million followers of his account, and the Likud party does not have an official account. All the paid advertising that shows in my Instagram every day comes from Netanyahu’s personal account. Therefore, the Likud allocates their marketing campaign budgets to Bibi’s personal Instagram. The same happens with Kahol Lavan, which has more than 2,000 followers, but Gantz and Lapid together have more than 70,000 followers in their personal accounts, so that is where the marketing campaigns are being published. It is important to emphasize that paid advertisement reaches millions of users and not only the candidates’ specific followers.

If you pay attention to the social media accounts of these figures, in addition to attacking their rivals, they are often seen with the public, cooking in their homes and showing how “they really are” (I again add the quotation marks). Another personal thought is that both
the Likud and Avodah, as well as other parties, constantly attack Kahol Lavan. I am convinced that this strategy is wrong since they do not manage to lower the potential voting for Gantz and only achieve keeping him publicized for longer and demonstrating that he is a serious rival to be taken into account. An interesting fact is that the Likud party defines Kahol Lavan as “Smol Halash” (weak left) and the Avodah party uses the slogan “Kahol Lavan ze Yamin” (Kahol Lavan is right-wing).

Summarizing this reflection and analysis of the digital campaigns of
these elections and returning to the McLuhan phrase where the medium is the message, I perceive that the candidates are more focused on “appearing’ in every given moment through different posts or Instagram stories with no apparent message. It is not that they
did not do this a decade ago, wallpapering the cities with their posters, but they also worried about conveying a more elaborate message, for example in the television propaganda. They continue to give interviews, yes, but the young voters do not watch television and only see what is on social media networks.

I leave you with some illustrated images of Netanyahu making fried eggs filmed with a mobile phone, or that of Moshe Feiglin who hides his main extreme right ideas and focuses on the populism of cannabis legalization, taking advantage of the fact that millions of procannabis young people use this digital platform. They also continue using the same ancestral techniques of diverting the public’s attention with other issues and using psychology so that their beautiful (or not so much) faces are engraved in our brains. But this time, the medium is different from what was used in the past fifty years.

I believe that the medium (Instagram or Facebook), today more than ever, has literally become the message.

Chazak Ve’ematz

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