Efforts to introduce some drama, or comedy, into the somewhat lackluster Israeli election campaign, in the form of satirical television ads for two parties at opposite ends of the political spectrum, have been stifled by the country’s Central Election Committee, which deemed them too offensive to broadcast. Despite those rulings, however, both ads have attracted tens of thousands of views online this week. That has not gone unnoticed by the parties’ leaders. As the Israeli newspaper Yedioth Ahronoth reported, before the ultra-Orthodox Shas Party bowed to a request to stop showing an ad that makes fun of émigrés from the former Soviet Union who are not considered Jews according to Halakha, or religious law, a party leader, Ariel Atias, said: “The ad isn’t supposed to hurt anyone. There is no word in it against Russians or any hurtful remarks, but an emphasis on Shas’s role in preventing legislation which will damage the state’s Jewish identity. We see it’s effective and tens of thousands have already viewed the video on YouTube.” Indeed, the official copy of the video posted on the Shas YouTube channel, and still featured on the party’s Facebook page, has been viewed more than 100,000 times since it was uploaded on Tuesday.
The Shas ad, depicting a marriage ceremony between an Israeli man and a tall, blonde woman named Marina Ivanof who converts to Judaism at the altar by sending a fax to a toll-free number, is a direct attack on the ultranationalist Yisrael Beiteinu Party, led by Avigdor Lieberman, a Russian speaker who immigrated to Israel from Soviet Moldova in 1978. Russian speakers now account for roughly 15 percent of Israel’s population, while the bulk of the Shas Party support is among working-class, Sephardic Jews who emigrated to Israel from Arab countries decades earlier.
Mr. Lieberman, whose party goes into the elections in coalition with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s conservative Likud Party, is also the also the target of another ad, released this week by the Balad Party, which represents Arab citizens of Israel. Unlike the Shas commercial, which was removed from the airwaves at the request of the election commission, Balad’s animated ad was banned by the authorities before it could be broadcast for “mocking” Israel’s national anthem.