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Surprising Israeli election commercials (with English subtitles)

January 9, 2013

Makom Israel has provided YouTube videos of some Israeli political television commercials for the upcoming parliamentary election.  The videos even come with optional English subtitles (you may need to click on the “CC” image in the lower control bar of the video).  On the YouTube page, there is a “more info” link that provides background.

This is my first time seeing Israeli video commercials, and I was rather shocked by many of them – I was particularly shocked by the “Shas” commercial which is a blatant appeal to racist bigotry (claiming that the current government is freely “giving away” Jewish conversions to Russian immigrants of Jewish descent who are culturally Jewish but not technically Jewish under Orthodox rabbinic law.)  It features a tall blonde Russian immigrant “Marina” who cannot speak Hebrew correctly (and who mixes Russian phrases her Hebrew) dialing a toll free STAR-CONVERSION number to get a faxed conversion certificate. 

This fits in with the theme of Shas party leader Arye Deri that the current ruling coalition is a party of “Russians and whites.”  By “whites,” Deri using an offensive term for Ashkenazi Jews (generally, Jews of northern or Eastern European descent) – Shas is appealing for a Sephardic Jewish (generally, Jews of Spanish or Middle Eastern descent) vote. 

I can hardly imagine this racism so explicitly stated in a television commercial.

(On googling further, I see that this advertisement was withdrawn today “for the sake of peace” after a formal request from the official election committee for the State of Israel.)

The “Pirate Party” (which advocates for Knesset [parliament] members who will vote as directed to by Internet polls) and “Green Leaf” (which advocates for legalization of marijuana) commercials are upsetting in a completely different way.

“The Movement” [Ha-tnua] commercial (which advocates for the only female candidate for prime minister) is the only one that talks about negotiations with Palestinians (and is even so daring as to show a picture of its prime minister candidate Tzipi Livni with Barak Obama.) 

All the commercials are listed here.  (HT:  Michael Pitkowsky)

9 Comments leave one →
  1. January 9, 2013 8:47 pm

    I don’t know if this is racist. The objection seems to be focused on “fake conversions”. Certainly it uses racial imagery but the fax machine plays a much larger role. And there is a real issue policy wise since Beitenu is running on simplifying conversion directly.

    That being said:

    a) Israel’s democracy is really moving very far to the right
    b) Israel’s partys are starting to have clear policy issues on which they elections are being decided rather than being all about ethnic identification and muddling policy. Which I think is really good.

  2. January 9, 2013 9:17 pm

    Israeli politics have always been fragmented (as American politics are increasingly becoming) but this commercial is quite extreme — particularly if you listen to the stereotyped Hebrew of “Marina,” which sounds to my ear like the pseudo-black English of “Amos ‘n’ Andy.”

    Beitenu’s proposal is the so-called “tzohar” law that will allow conversions by any Orthodox rabbinic court in the country — not just the local Orthodox rabbinic court. Shas’s characterization of this as being equivalent to “fax machine” conversions is quite unfair.

  3. January 9, 2013 9:40 pm


    AFAIK part of this is a reduction in criteria, i.e. a limited list of mitzvot. There have been battles back and forth about army conversions for example. I don’t understand the full context, but my point is that there are issues, this is not just a racial identity attack. Which for Israel is a step up. Though I didn’t realize the sound track was also mocking her.

    Shas has always been kind of a lousy party.

  4. January 9, 2013 10:08 pm

    Not sure about the claim in your first sentence, but you are definitely right about the statement in your second sentence — some soldiers in the Israeli Army have used the Army chief rabbi to convert.

    As weird as it is to us in the US to debate religious policy in a television commercial, the racism is over-the-top (which is why it apparently drew such a strong reaction in Israel).

    You and I live in a country where a Mormon could win the nomination of the leading conservative party; where there are no Protestants on the Supreme Court (only Jews and Catholics); and an African-American can win the presidency (twice). Things have changed since shows like “Amos ‘n’ Andy” aired six decades ago.

    It is not as if Russian immigrants are an insignificant group in Israel — Russian immigrants and their children constitute over a fifth of the Israeli Jewish population.

  5. January 9, 2013 11:53 pm

    Israelis are upset about that disgusting Shas ad too. It helps to remember that there are over 30 parties in parliament (knesset) here (not counting the many parties without seats) and by law they are all given free ad time before the election. Also, Shas is NOT a “right wing” party at all, but is generally aligned with the left (on other issues, that is — this racism is unique to their own party.) Its “vision” (or method of getting voted for) is radically opposed to that of non-Haredi religious parties that are considered politically on the right.

  6. January 9, 2013 11:56 pm

    I found the reduced list I had seen:

    This is evidently the proposal. Shas is objecting to.

    Anyway in terms of racism and Israel among the Sephardi the polling is:
    32 Undecided
    30 Lukid-Beytenu
    12 Shas
    8 Labor
    7 Jewish Home
    3 Yesh Atid
    2 Hatnua

    That’s a population that is no longer voting racially. Shas is dying among its target population. I think that’s a major step forward. Israel has had substantially more racial pressure than the USA and yet they are making progress. And to be honest given the racist campaign Romney ran in his attacks on hispanics in particular I don’t know how much I’d be patting ourselves on the back.

  7. January 10, 2013 12:11 am

    Also remember that the demographic group to which Shas tries to pander has itself in past decades had struggles similar to that of American minority groups. That certainly doesn’t excuse them, but it does change how this ad fits into broader Israeli society– that is, it has more in common with a racist statement by an American of African descent than with such a statement by an American of European descent.

  8. January 10, 2013 1:04 am

    CD-Host — I’m not sure that Beit Morasha proposal is related to Beitenu. I think of Beit Morasha as being related to Benny Lau, who is a (relatively well-known) Modern Orthodox rabbi.

    Courtney — absolutely, you are making excellent points. But don’t you think that here, that Shas was picking on a group that is struggling itself (Russian immigrants)? I have to say I am especially put off by the apparent grudging way in which Shas withdrew the advertisement — explicitly declining the opportunity to apologize.

  9. January 10, 2013 1:17 am

    Just to clarify, Theophrastus, I totally agree with you and find the ad despicable. I was just attempting to fill out the picture a bit for Americans who might wrongly think this equivalent to a situation in which Democrats or Republicans ran a racist ad.

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