Media Consultants Slam Israeli Election Contestants’ Performances

The campaign broadcasts launched by 16 parties Tuesday, March 7, snagged only a 12% on the television rating. The electorate is not charmed by any of the would-be prime ministers’ personalities; neither does the public buy their evasions on pressing issues, or the heavy-handed way they have of making butts of rivals. The fuzzy lines of electioneering for the 17th Knesset ballot reflect the contestants’ perplexities and failings.
The sudden stroke suffered by prime minister Ariel Sharon caught Ehud Olmert and the national political scene in general off-guard. On Jan. 4, Olmert assumed leadership of the ruling Kadima party without prior notice. He thereupon pledged to follow in the footsteps of the now comatose prime minister. This has become the leitmotif of his campaign, and it has not done him much good.
Since Olmert’s takeover, Kadima has been sliding at the rate of one point or more per week. It is still in the lead (37 out of 120 Knesset seats compared with Labor’s 19 and Likud’s 15), but the last two days have been disastrous both for him and his predecessor. The state comptroller Tuesday, March 7, slammed the Sharon government’s bureaucratic inhumanity towards the 10,000 Israelis thrown out of their villages and homes in Gaza’s Gush Katif and the N. West Bank last September, without proper provision of homes, jobs, schools or alternative communal locations.
Faithful to Sharon’s path, Olmert’s first major decision in his new capacity was to order the forcible evacuation of 9 homes in the unauthorized Amon outpost near Ofra on the West Bank. The unbridled brutality of the security forces made this incident a calamity that is leaking into the Kadima campaign through the testimony unfolding this week in hearings held by the parliamentary Amona inquiry commission.
They coincided with the state comptroller’s report on Gush Katif and its sequel. Both revelations place in a poor light the Kadima’s election pledges of continuity against huge portraits of the ailing leader. The rise of a Hamas-led Palestinian government is no asset either.
In this murky ambience, Olmert finds himself with one shoe on and one shoe off in the effort to establish a credible leadership image. His main advantage is the deficient showing of his rivals.
While the media consultants of all three leading contestants – Olmert, former prime minister Binyamin Netanyahu of Likud and Amir Peretz of Labor – publicly enthused over their clients’ first TV clips, privately, debkafile‘s political sources report, they were mercilessly critical.
The acting prime minister and Kadima leader was been strongly advised to avoid interviews on light entertainment programs. The experts complained that his latest interview Monday, March 6, undid all their hard work to build up a statesmanlike gravitas as befitting a head of government. Unless he wants Kadima to drop to 35 seats at most in the next Knesset, he must show up only at state events. And apart from foreign minister Tzipi Livni, Olmert would do well to keep most of the party’s leading lights – especially the dovish Shimon Peres and such scene-stealers as former Shin Beit director Avi Dichter – well hidden.
Netanyahu was not let off any more lightly. He was reproved for muddling the voter by failing to state clearly whether he is running for prime minister or leader of the opposition. The former Likud prime minister was advised to go for the latter and appeal to the voter to elect a strong Likud, able to fight the sleaze characterizing Kadima and its leaders’ harmful policies.
Labor’s Peretz was given the opposite advice: he was told to give up his solo appearances because they don’t stand up – even after his photo ops with the King of Morocco, the president of Egypt and the Palestinian chairman. Peretz, the media consultants say, must have the crutch of an impressive lineup of Labor leaders to flank him on the platform. But, please, no left-wingers.
Most of all the experts would love him to shave off his luxuriant moustache – a definite minus for an aspiring prime minister.

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