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From the ‘Bibi-sitter’ to Exploding Voters, the Best of Israel’s Surreal Election Ads

This election season, Israeli campaign ads have been pushing the boundaries of the anti-viral, the hilarious, and the bizarre.

Screen Shot 2015-03-16 at 5crop

A nuclear Iran. A historically bad relationship with the United States. A stalled peace process with the Palestinians. A stagnant economy with a widening wealth gap.

When Israelis go to the polls tomorrow, they’ll have no lack of choice of serious, potentially existential issues to consider. But you wouldn’t know that from the funny, edgy, and at times absurd commercials blanketing Israeli airwaves as incumbent Benjamin Netanyahu tries to hold off a hard-charging challenger, Isaac Herzog (current polls give Herzog a slight lead). The Israeli ads go way beyond what you’d see in the United States, and that’s what makes them so much fun: A prime minister in jeans is much, much more interesting than watching an American flag fade into a rolling field of grain for the umpteenth time.

Here, then, is the best of this year’s Israeli election ads.

Bibi-sitter

Is it too much to call it an instant classic? In this ad, Netanyahu appears at the door of an unsuspecting young couple in jeans and a button-down shirt and proceeds to sell himself as prime minister based on his virtues as a baby-sitter. The kicker? The parents come early to find Netanyahu — and we stress again, the actual prime minister, not an actor — sitting on their couch eating popcorn.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=0CzqrB7aQgs

The apologizing hipster Jew

Right-winger Naftali Bennett wants Israel, particularly the left, to stop apologizing for its role in the world, its military action against terrorist groups, and its settlement activity. So this election season, he dressed up as a hipster and went around the streets of Israel profusely apologizing.

Not cool, bro

The left-wing party Meretz responded to Bennet’s stunt by dressing up its leader as a religious woman and then deciding not to spoof anyone at all. “Meretz doesn’t make fun of brothers and sisters,” the ad declared.

Poof!

When Netanyahu claims that there is a foreign conspiracy afoot to oust him from power, he may be in part referring to V15, a liberal organization group working to replace the current Israeli leader. That group includes the former Obama organizer Jeremy Bird and has brought a bit of that campaign’s advertising savvy to Israel. In this ad, the group powerfully illustrates the pain felt by Israeli suffering from a rising cost of living.

Invisible people

Elsewhere, that message of middle-class suffering has been turned with a winking eye toward the problems of those living below the poverty line. Here, Shas, the part of ultra-Orthodox Sephardic Jews, shows the country’s poor people living in invisibility.

Kindergarten politicians

What is it with Netanyahu and childcare metaphors? This time around, Netanyahu tries to lord over a roomful of misbehaving kindergartners that share the names of his political rivals. They don’t know how to share and can’t in the words of Netanyahu, the proverbial adult in the room, get anything done.

Not quite the 3 a.m. phone call

Likud has attacked the Zionist Union for splitting the premiership between its two leaders and issued this ad to illustrate the point. Less relevant now that Tzipi Livni has said she will not serve as prime minister, the ad is still a good example of the biting tone Likud has taken in attacking her ticket.

The winner

Not all Israel’s parties are amused by this turn toward comedy in the country’s political advertising. Here, Yesh Atid, a centrist party pushing an agenda of economic reform, presents a three-hour video outlining its achievements while in office. While a guy paints a mural in the background.

Workers = Hamas

The Israeli election-season propensity for humor can also go far. The Likud ad below generated a firestorm of controversy when it was released earlier this month. In it, a dock worker, a bureaucrat, and a telecom executive attend a support group and complain how Netanyahu’s policies have alternately cut into corruption and forced them to do an honest day’s work. Then a Hamas terrorist comes on screen and complains that Netanyahu has been bad for his business as well. Likud apologized and withdrew the ad. View the video here.

Elias Groll is a staff writer at Foreign Policy. Twitter: @EliasGroll

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