In the latest Likud campaign video, released online Saturday, the message is that voters who cast their ballots for parties to the left of Netanyahu are throwing open Israel’s borders to an invasion by the so-called Islamic State, which in Israel and much of the Arabic-speaking world is called Da’esh.
The video opens with bearded men traveling in a pickup truck, flying the black IS flag with its distinctive white calligraphy. The driver of the truck pulls up beside another car and honks for the other driver’s attention. The IS guy in the passenger seat leans out the window and asks him, in Hebrew with a comically exaggerated Arabic accent, “Hey bro, how do you get to Jerusalem?” The driver of the car shouts back (in Israeli Hebrew), “Take a left!”
Then there’s the slogan, in red Hebrew letters emblazoned on a gray, bullet-marked background: “THE LEFT WILL SURRENDER TO TERROR.”
One of the IS guys fires celebratory bullets skyward and the driver peels off, ostensibly in the direction of Jerusalem, as they all shout exultantly in Arabic, “Shukran, ya ward!” (“Thanks, bro!”). The camera pans briefly to the rear of the truck to focus on a popular Israeli bumper sticker that reads, “Anyone but Bibi.”
The tagline: “It’s us, or them. Only the Likud. Only Netanyahu.”
The snatch of Arabic rap lyrics is excerpted from a song by an Amman-based Palestinian group called Torabyeh: “I want to be buried in the same cemetery that my grandfather was buried in. Since my childhood I’ve been dreaming of becoming a soldier and as time passed I discovered who I wanted to belong to: Mahmoud Abbas, Fateh, Hamas or…Jabha [the DFLP] …”
Netanyahu has for years been promoting his message about the threat to Israeli security posed by Islamist extremism, never missing an opportunity to list Hamas along with the Islamic State, Al Qaeda, Boko Haram and even Fateh, mixing them all up so that the average Israeli Jew reflexively associates Arabs and Islam with terror. Like all accomplished populists, he understands the power of repeating a mendacious slogan, and he is an expert at exploiting popular fears and racism.
There is plenty of evidence in popular culture to show that Netanyahu’s tactics work; that his rhetoric has penetrated the mainstream. Never mind that the Islamic State has not expressed any particular interest in Israel or in Palestine. It’s far too busy slaughtering Arabs in Iraq and Syria — decapitating, shooting, crucifying and immolating them in their hundreds. Or, as two IS fighters captured by the Peshmerga told Israeli reporter Itai Anghel in a report he made for Channel 2’s news magazine “Fact,” , they’re not particularly interested in killing Israelis. They just hate everybody who’s not like them.
But the Bibi banter works. Channel 10, for example, recently broadcast a series of pre-election clips in which candidates drive taxis while discussing politics with their passengers. In this clip, the blonde woman sitting in the back seat tells Meretz candidate Tamar Zandberg that she won’t vote for the Left (“it’s not personal! I don’t mean to insult you!”) because if the Left gets into power, Da’esh will overrun Israel.
The popular Israeli narrative is so reactionary and confused these days, that if one were to walk the streets asking average citizens if there was a difference between Fateh and Al Qaeda, most people would be hard-pressed to answer coherently. Go ahead and try to explain to an Israeli audience that Hamas is a small offshoot of Egypt’s Muslim Brotherhood, that it is basically a technocratic political party, that it is extremely unpopular in Gaza and that it has nothing to do with expansionist jihadism. Try telling people that if Israel were to lift the siege on Gaza, disgruntled Palestinians would probably kick Hamas out of power immediately. Just try. The best you can hope for is to be told that you’re a traitor who should go live in Gaza.
And by choosing music created by Palestinian-Jordanian rappers with lyrics about the dream of being buried in one’s ancestral homeland, the video’s creators drive home the message: Palestinian aspirations = terrorism = ISIS = the end of Israel. So vote Likud or, as Netanyahu writes on his Facebook introduction to the video, it’s: “Us or them, the ISIS version. Vote for Likud with Netanyahu at its head or for a weak, submissive government with Tzipi and Buji at its head.”
*Thanks to Mohamed El Dahshan and IB for identifying and translating the Torabyeh song.