Having been the official election and personal campaign photographer, to first Benjamin Netanyahu in 2009 and then Avigdor Liberman in 2013, I thought I had a fair idea of what was involved in being a member of campaign staff in an Israeli election campaign.
That was until I was asked to work on the 2013 Jerusalem Municipal campaign as personal photographer to Moshe Lion, standing against the current Mayor of the City.
With Netanyahu and Liberman – I knew exactly what I was letting myself in for. I am aware of the way they are perceived by the shameful Israeli media and a chunk of the Israeli public, who think that anyone on the Right, and who G-d forbid may be an immigrant, are Fascist occupiers and beneath the great Socialist Ashkenazi Israeli elite.
However, as an immigrant myself, with Right-of-centre political views, these were two men I both respected and admired, and having been around them both for large amounts of time that respect and admiration only increased.
I thought this would prepare me well for what was after all a local election campaign, having already been involved in two national campaigns.
Simply, I was wrong!
When I researched the man I had been asked to work for – before I had agreed to discuss further whether I would accept the offer – what I found was a man who had been involved in Jerusalem Municipal affairs in one form or another for the previous fifteen years, and even though he did not actually live in the city, had chosen to give his time, experience and passion to a city that meant such a lot to him personally, and that he had already done so much to help and improve.
This had been recognized in a letter sent two years ago by the Mayor of Jerusalem to the Prime Minister commending Moshe Lion for his contribution to Jerusalem and its Municipality.
I also learned that Moshe had been the Director General of the Prime Minister’s Office as well as head of Israel Railways and had built a successful business. Instead what I was hearing from the Mayors campaign team and the man from the affluent neighbourhood of Beit Ha Kerem himself, was that Moshe Lion was not a Jerusalemite and in fact came from Givatiyim. However, my feeling as someone who has lived in Jerusalem for nearly seven years was not this guy had no right to run for mayor of a city he doesn’t live in, but instead that this guy must really love this city to want to be mayor.
After all, why would anyone in their right mind want to be mayor of the craziest, tense, divisive city on earth; having to deal with the Mea Shearim mafia, the gangs of Geula, the rich of Rehavia, and most of all the Eastern part of the City where the residents are intimidated in to not participating in the city’s running until the great day ‘Inshallah’ when it will become Judenfrei.
Moreover, I had heard that Moshe was a warm, friendly, humble guy – and that was enough for me to agree to come on board, as you certainly do not work on Israeli election campaigns for the money.
What followed was a series of the most despicable tactics and character assassination I have seen in my thirty year career working in the media.
First of all, the money that was spent by the ‘man from Beit HaKerem’ peppering the city with posters, not as you would think, mentioning his own accomplishments, but informing us that Moshe Lion did not actually live in Jerusalem, shock, horror!
Then we were kindly informed by the ‘man from Beit HaKerem’s’ campaign team that Moshe was in fact just a stooge, fronting for Avigdor Liberman’s ultimate quest of taking over the world, with Jerusalem being just the start.
Apparently though, those great minds sitting around on the sixth floor of the Town Hall quaking in their expensive boots were just getting started, obviously the racial card was played – as always, and the Israeli media bought every word of it – as always.
However, I saw first hand in the hours and hours, days and nights I was spending next to Moshe Lion as he travelled the city’s neighbourhoods that he is a truly decent man, and no one’s stooge. He is a man who, under constant provocation and defamation, remained positive, warm and humble. A man who is as comfortable and gracious when speaking with people living in bomb shelters in Talpiot as he is with the country’s leaders.
People often say they would like to be a fly on the wall in certain situations, I am very lucky, I actually get to be the fly on the wall, away from the public eye, when you can tell very quickly who the genuine people are, and who are just in it for their egos.
As a photographer I often spend more time around the person I am working with than almost anyone else on the team. When they are sleep deprived and under constant pressure, when everyone wants to give them another piece of advice regardless of their qualifications to do so – yet even in the depths of exhaustion, Moshe was able to stay positive and give a few words of encouragement; a thank you, an arm on the shoulder – this is not something you see often, however, this is what I saw from Moshe Lion.
It is Jerusalem’s loss that the people who did actually take the time to vote fell for the spin. Because, when you look through the lens, the dirt shines up brightly.