Israeli Ad Watch
Meretz Appeals To Smart Secular Women
Don Futterman analyzes Zehava Galon's campaign ad in the run-up to Israeli elections.
“Meet Zehava Galon” opens with Meretz’s leader sitting in shadow on a simple plastic chair in her living room, with overstuffed bookcases visible in the background. Piano trills set us up for a rapid pace despite the static visuals. Lights up on Zehava, dressed simply in a white shirt, open at the collar, and a brown sweater, attire that communicates unpretentiousness. Her bio stats appear line by line on screen, while she sits calmly gazing at the camera.
In seven seconds, before a word has been spoken, we know that Galon immigrated to Israel as a child; that she is 56; and that she is a wife, mother, and doctoral student—hence, an intellectual—studying gender studies, a field associated with feminism, but at Bar Ilan, a university under Orthodox auspices. What follows is a brief, rapid-fire biography—Meretz doesn’t get much ad time—primarily drawing on stills.
Snapshots are used to create a nostalgic, authentic feel, opening with Galon as a freckle-faced girl out of Huck Finn. She hails from an immigrant neighborhood in Petach Tikvah, a town known for its working class melting pot character. Her mother was a strong influence and neighborhood personality, and she was called to the political barricades by a great female leader.Biography ads are used to establish an image when the candidate lacks sufficient recognizability, or to alter public perception of the candidate. It's a standard format harking back to the very first political television ad, for Dwight D. Eisenhower’s 1952 campaign—which, like this one, showed how the candidate came from smack in the middle of the country, and was by implication representative of the nation. Galon, despite her tenure, does not have a clearly defined image among much of the electorate.
The first half of the ad is meant to suggest a candidate both the average Israeli and the educated elite can identify with. A series of stills then establish Galon’s activist credentials and progressive leadership creds: defying Orthodox hegemony at a protest to open a movie theater on Shabbat, and getting the Carter Award for Human Rights from Jimmy Carter himself in the name of Betselem, an organization monitoring rights abuses in the Occupied Territories. (Imagine an American politician using Carter to establish credibility in 2013.)
Political ads routinely associate the candidate with a better-known and beloved leader in the hope that the more established figure’s aura will rub off. Galon links herself to Meretz’s Shulamit Aloni, a Bella Abzug-like charismatic firebrand known for speaking her mind and drawing fire from ultra-Orthodox and right-wing leaders, thereby reinforcing the line of female influence that started with Galon’s mother. Aloni charged Galon with her mission—the Dumbledore to her Harry Potter—which in turn makes Galon Aloni’s true and female heir (the leaders in between were men). Galon answered Aloni’s call, she tells us, because she could not abide discrimination and deprivation.
As the music shifts to the Meretz jingle, Galon offers a quick recitation of the party priorities: social justice, gender equality, and a political solution to the conflict. Despite the attempted association with Aloni, the still photos suggest a methodical leader who studies documents with other reasonable and educated Ashkenazim, leads meetings rather than rallies, and receives awards—the President’s Citation for Combatting Trafficking in Women, and honors from the gay community, among them. The trappings of power hardly appear, and the single shot of Galon at the Knesset seems to be from her first day there, akin to Mary Tyler Moore’s arrival in Minneapolis. Jewish or Zionist symbols and language are entirely absent.
The ad wraps up with Galon reminding viewers of their dichotomous choice in this election; she states that only a vote for Meretz is a guaranteed vote against Netanyahu, which is reinforced by the green (progressive, nature) logo.
Galon’s family life remains private and she avoids exposing herself to the ridicule Labor’s Shelly Yachimovich endured when she revealed how she cooks in bulk and stores family meals in the freezer in her own bio ad. But Galon also distances herself from viewers who might want to see a softer side, or female viewers who might want to identify with her in her role as wife and mother. All this raises the question of why she even bothered with the home setting.
Galon comes across as a doer for liberal causes, even if she does not always make headlines. She’s committed, diligent and effective, but neither inspirational nor eager for power. The stills give a static feel and it all seems somewhat dispassionate. Despite the reference to her everywoman Petach Tivkah roots, this ad’s appeal is to well-educated, secular, Ashkenazi voters—Meretz’s base—focusing on the professional women among them.