Molad - the Center for the Renewal of Israeli Democracy

Analysis
08.02.2015 by Molad
Project Sixty One
Project Sixty One    

Highlight: Project Sixty One

The P.R. firm of the facts - disseminating accessible information about the political reality in Israel

What is Sixty One?


Project Sixty One, named after the number of seats required to form a Knesset majority, aims to disseminate accessible information about the political reality in Israel.

In the turbulent, often frenzied dynamic that is Israeli political life, people tend to make do with slogans and forget the need to discuss hard facts. Many of our politicians love this state of affairs: public ignorance and speculation is better for them than discourse based on actual facts. If they had their way, we would all make do with slogans about the existential importance of Jerusalem and the faux camaraderie of Bennett and Lapid. It is certainly easier to think of Bennett as a “brother” than analyse how he’s spending the family budget; and Lapid is quite convincing in his role as purveyor of change – until you try to remember what he actually changed in the last national budget.

We formed Sixty One to counter this culture of political superficiality. Our work is to take the lacklustre dry facts and package them in a way that no one will be able to ignore. Think of us as an advertising agency for the hardest thing to sell: statistics.

For example, consider a newspaper noting a Central Bureau of Statistics figure: the state spends 52% more on the average Israeli citizen in the West Bank than on the average citizen in Be’er Sheva, the backwater capital of southern Israel. Undoubtedly an important fact, but who will remember it? Yet run the figure along with an image of the prime minister breastfeeding a baby captioned “Netanyahu’s favorite children”, and you’ve caught public attention.

Our aim is to entertain, catch attention, and provoke if need be – but we have no sense of humor where our meticulous fact-checking is concerned. Every post we publish consists of a poster with a brief explanation that links to a longer text detailing the issue (500-1,200 words) with full fact references. The longer explanations are just as accessible and easy to understand, as part of our mission to unpack complex topics and make them accessible to the layperson.

If the subject is economic, our priority is to simplify complicated concepts and highlight the differences between political opinions; in defense and foreign affairs, our major challenge is to offer a refreshing outlook on boringly familiar arguments.

Everything we do depends, in the end, on the public. If people find our content interesting, they will share it with friends. That is why so much of our energy goes to making our posters both attractive and super reliable. Facebook has become a major – even sole – source of political information for many people. If the content editors you trust most are your friends, our aim is to get your friends to trust us.


Yonatan Levi and Sany Arazi, the people behind Sixty One (Photo by: Nimrod Glickman, Calcalist)

How did all this begin?

Basically, it started with envy. While watching the 2012 U.S. presidential debate between Obama and Romney, we were struck by the fact that they were debating more than just slogans. There, on TV, were two articulate politicians talking hard facts and figures, not just spouting catchphrases but actually discussing policy. They debated agendas and reforms and addressed real problems that were troubling the public. Best of all, they knew that if they tried any fact-twisting or other manipulations, someone from the other side was watching and would call them on it. Why shouldn’t we, in Israel, have the same?

The time was just after the 2011 summer of social protest in Israel, and the “social messiah” Olympics were on. Coming up to elections, candidates were running from one news channel to another touting the socioeconomic agenda of their party. No one imagined that they could be confronted with actual facts about their golden propositions: past statements that contradicted their new messages, embarrassing votes in parliament that could not be erased by one-liners concocted by savvy media advisors. That’s when we began: we decided to check whether Moshe Kahlon, the “social star” of the right-wing Likkud party, was really such a champion of the public cause as he made himself out to be.


Figures

To date, we have published more than 250 Facebook posts, each of which has been shared by hundreds and liked by thousands. In the last elections, a single post of ours was shared on average 1,020 times and we currently have 36,500 followers – making us one of the most powerful political Facebook pages in Israel. Tens of thousands of users are exposed to each of our posts, and especially popular ones have reached more than 100,000 people. Our most-viewed post so far compared scandalous expenditure at the prime minister’s residence – on luxuries ranging from ice cream and a pool to makeup and gardening – to harsh statistics on poverty in Israel. It reached more than 700,000 people and was shared by over 10,000 users, rivalling the reach of mainstream media in Israel.



Impact

Apparently we are having an impact – otherwise the right wing wouldn’t detest us as they do. Makor Rishon, the Israeli religious-conservative daily, ran a long magazine story on how we work. The YESHA Council, an umbrella organization for West Bank settlers, even briefly set up a rival page called Sixty Two, but it died with a whimper within several weeks.

Our signature format – a stylized, entertaining poster coupled with a major statistic – has become the go-to graphic for many civil society organizations and political parties in Israel; web content produced by the left-wing Meretz party and the Peace Now movement are two cases in point.

Many of the stories we uncovered were followed up by Israeli mainstream media (in Hebrew). For example:

  • We revealed that former education minister Gideon Sa’ar manipulated the scores of an international math test run in Israel before presenting them to the public just before elections (Ha’aretz)
  • We exposed questionable ties between Minister of Agriculture Yair Shamir and the French arms industry (The Marker)
  • Our investigation of Rabbi Shmuel Eliahu, the candidate for chief rabbi backing by the religious-national party HaBayit HaYehudi, uncovered racist quotes in his past; this served the attorney general in the opinion he submitted barring Eliahu from running for office, and fueled a broad public campaign that eventually cost Eliahu the position (Ma’ariv)
  • We revealed that principals and teachers in state-religious schools enlisted students to participate in a large pro-HaBayit HaYehudi demonstration in E1, a settlement area in the West Bank (Channel 2 top news program)
  • We exposed a 3.8 million shekel grant transferred by Naftali Bennett through the Ministry of Religious Services to his close ally, Rabbi Daniel Tropper, who was then chairman of the election committee for Bennett’s party and responsible for writing the party’s new constitution – all without a proper bidding process, needless to say (Channel 10)
  • We led a public outcry against the participation of centrist MK Ruth Calderon in an extreme right-wing convention organized by the Komemiyut movement (weekly column by top publicist Nahum Barnea, Ha’aretz, Time Out)
  • We unearthed old video footage of Naftali Bennett which was screened on Channel 2 and Channel 10 news broadcasts, embarrassing HaBayit HaYehudi in light of Bennett’s alliance with centrist Finance Minister Lapid (Channel 10)
  • Channel 2 showed one of our posters as an example of public opposition to Lapid’s national budget
  • Our comparison of Netanyahu’s and Lapid’s budgets was aired on a late-night Channel 10 show, including an interview with our project editor (channel 10)
  • Our exposé of extremist views held by HaBayit HaYehudi members during the previous elections (see here) was picked up by the Likud party and served as the basis for their campaign launched several days later (Channel 10)