Israeli campaign ads: Why Netanyahu is calling himself a “Bibi-Sitter”

The looming national elections in Israel have resulted in a slew of satirical videos from the country’s top political parties. 

YouTube screengrab
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu calls himself the "Bibi-Sitter."

The ad wars are on in Israel.

With the country’s parliamentary election set for March 17, a number of the parties in the running have released campaign ads that lean towards the snarky and satirical.

Exhibit A is Prime Minister Benjamin “Bibi” Netanyahu, whose campaign videos have so far portrayed him and his conservative Likud Party as the only competent, adult leaders in a government full of children.

His latest ad, called “Bibi-Sitter,” has Mr. Netanyahu surprising a young couple by knocking on their door and offering to baby-sit their kids. The couple is shocked at the prime minister’s suggestion, but Netanyahu says that it’s either him or his rivals: Tziporah “Tzipi” Livni, former justice minister and erstwhile Likud member, or Isaac Herzog, nickname “Buji,” head of the center-left Labor party.

“No no no no,” the parents protest.

“Buji? Our children will have to take care of him!” Dad says. The couple adds that Herzog would have given away their house and carpet before they got home – likely a reference to the Labor Party leader’s relatively soft stance on Israeli-Palestinian relations, according to Slate’s international affairs writer Joshua Keating.

As for Tzipi, who switched allegiances several times before aligning her centrist Hatnuah Party with Herzog’s Labor: “By the time we get back, she’ll have moved on to the neighbors’,” Netanyahu says.

“Bibi-Sitter” is a follow-up to an earlier video, since banned by Israel’s Central Elections Committee for showing children under 15. In it, the prime minister tries and fails to control the leaders of other parties, who are portrayed by a group of unruly preschoolers.  

“There’s no time to waste,” Netanyahu says. “We can’t have kindergarteners like this. To run a country, we need a strong and stable government.”

Not to be outdone, other parties have released their own ads. Naftali Bennett, head of the religious Habayit Hayehudi party, takes a swing at leftists and moderates when he plays the part of what Israeli publication Haaretz describes as an “overly apologetic secular Jew.”

In the video – one of a number the party has released – Bennett spends three minutes saying sorry to passersby in every imaginable situation before he drops the punchline: “From now on, we’re going to stop apologizing. Join Habayit Hayehudi.”

In response, the left-wing Meretz released a clip featuring party leader Zahava Gal-On being dressed in ultra-Orthodox attire. Once Gal-On is ready, the scene cuts to text in Hebrew, which Haaretz translates as, “Meretz doesn’t make fun of brothers and sisters.”

Then the final line: “Meretz works for everyone.”

While Israel’s political ads have their critics, satire is an increasingly common feature of democratic elections around the world. India’s old tradition of political cartoons has in recent years been met with a more robust appetite for satire, the BBC reported last year, and in the Philippines, humor has long been companion to politics. In the United States, satirical news programs (such as Comedy Central's Jon Stewart's The Daily Show and The Colbert Report) were the top television news sources for 18- to 29-year-olds in 2012, according to a Pew Research Center study.

“Contrary to some criticism, satire's goal is not voter apathy,” Penn State professor Sophia McClennen, who also authored “Is Satire Saving Our Nation?” wrote for The Huffington Post. “[I]ts goal is to encourage voters to turn their disgust into action and their frustrations into votes.”

The strategy may be working – at least for Netanyahu. Despite facing criticism at home and abroad for accepting US House Speaker John Boehner's invitation to address Congress on Iran's nuclear program, his image as a strong leader, especially on security issues, has him and his party ahead in the latest polls, according to Reuters.

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