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Middle east

Yes, we can… copy Obama’s website

Text by Tatiana EL KHOURY

Latest update : 2009-02-10

Israel's election candidates have taken a lead from Barack Obama's unprecedented and original use of slogans, the Internet and the mobilisation of activists - but will it work?


When you've got a winning formula for victory at the polls, don't change it - use it.

The candidates in Tuesday’s Israeli elections have taken this doctrine by the horns and are injecting as much Obama magic as they can into their respective campaigns.

A glance at the candidates’ websites shows how much has been copied from Obama's campaign strategy.

"Everyone from Nicolas Sarkozy to Gordon Brown is going to copy Obama," says Jake Lamar, a member of Democrats Abroad and one of the advisers to the US Democrats’ campaign in France.

"It's pure coincidence that we're seeing it now with the Israeli election - and that's just because it is happening first."

The similarities between the Israeli campaigns and Obama's are striking.

From the recycling of slogans to the use of Internet networking and communications strategies, and the mobilisation of activists - anything goes.

And the Israeli parties are not, it seems, ashamed of their blatant re-use of a tried and tested method.

Sani Sanilovich, Internet coordinator for the right-wing Likud party, told the Israeli daily Haaretz in November that party leader Benjamin Netanyahu had asked him for an "Obama-style" election.


The socialist Meretz party hired David Fenton and Tom Mazzei, two important advisers on the Obama campaign, to spin the party as big a lead as possible.

Meretz campaign director Avshalom Vilan told FRANCE 24 the aim is to attract younger voters who feel disenfranchised by politics.

"The only way to get through to young people is via the Internet," he said. "So we're spending half our budget on our online strategy."

There are three main areas where the Israeli campaigns have borrowed heavily from Obama: focusing on the core political message, massive use of the Internet and communications technologies, and the mobilisation of party activists.

A strong message - getting the party to sing in unison

Barack Obama presented himself as a candidate for change at a moment when politics and the economy were unhappy bedfellows.

Bush's popularity ratings were plummeting nearly as fast as the world's stock indexes.

The slogans called for a new direction - "Make a difference", "Change can Happen", "Change is coming".

There are strong similarities with the situation in Israel.

The prime minister has resigned and is the subject of judicial inquiries. The economy, as with the rest of the world, is in crisis.

Obama's rousing calls for change have been taken on by Israeli parties.

Likud has modelled several of its own slogans on the Obama campaign, although qualifying them precisely can take some lateral thinking.

But the religious Sephardic party "Shas" wins the Palme d'Or for plagiarism with its slogan "Yes We Can".


The left-leaning daily Haaretz was outraged that a party it considers "extremely dangerous to the fabric of Israeli society" could misappropriate a message so blatantly.
But the big difference between the Israeli campaigns and that of the Democratic candidate is that Obama was very much the new kid on the block.

As much as Israel's parties preach change, the candidates have been there before and are familiar faces with the voters.

"What is so extraordinary," says Jake Lamar, "is that none of these candidates can really be considered agents of change."

Journalist Samy Bochner of the Jerusalem Post adds: "Barak and Netanyahu are both former prime ministers. Tzipi Livni is a minister in the outgoing government."

The copy and paste Internet strategy

The Obama camp successfully enacted the biggest ever online communications campaign of any political party, recruiting a huge number of new followers and activists.

This model for success has been adopted by many Israeli parties.
The blogosphere and social networking sites such as Facebook and Twitter, one of the bedrocks of Obama's on-line assault, have all been thrown into the Israeli parties' campaign mix.


Each of the main parties has posted a slew of sites and links on their websites, where supporters can go to drum up support and interact with other voters.

The overt objective, from the parties' point of view, is to better understand their supporters.

But behind this is a drive to build up huge databases of supporters - and then to exploit them as much as possible.


By the end of his campaign in November Obama had more than 13 million email addresses in his database of supporters. The value of this is certainly not lost on the Israeli candidates.


Beyond the phenomenon that was Obama on-line, the real success of his campaign was the massive mobilisation of supporters and activists - especially among the young people who are so often politically apathetic.

This is a generation that grew up with the Internet and understands how it can be used to build a support base.

The US Democrat campaign was able to get 1.2 million activists onto the phone, out into the streets and knocking on people’s doors, building exponentially and relentlessly on the popular reach of Obama's message.


Israel's parties are trying to emulate this method by calling on supporters to volunteer actively to canvass for support in the Obama style - so much so that many of the campaign’s online forms are almost direct copies of those used for the Democrat campaign.

Likewise, activists are organised into those helping logistics, organisation, fund-raising and in observational roles on election day.

And just like the Obama campaign, those who don't have time to get out onto the streets or to pick up the phone have been asked to open their wallets instead, echoing the Democrat telethon which raised huge amounts of cash from small donations made by a large number of supporters.

It remains to be seen whether this overt plagiarism will be of any tangible benefit to the Israeli parties.

As Jake Lamar points out: "During the 60s many groups tried to emulate the Beatles. Some of them were good, some of them less good. But none of them were the Beatles."

Date created : 2009-02-08