Startup Nation? Israel’s Electioneering Law Is 60 Years Old

Social networks are not subject to the country's antiquated electioneering law, allowing for early campaigning online

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu during his "dramatic statement," August 7, 2018.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s “dramatic announcement” on his Facebook page Monday night – which preceded his live TV appearance that evening – is still not considered electioneering, something that’s allowed only starting 90 days before an election.

But it reawakened the debate on which election campaigning is permitted online, particularly on social networks, which are not subject to Israel’s 1959 electioneering law.

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Thus Israel has no laws governing campaigning on social networks, even though they have become such a dominant form of the media.

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The 1959 law states when campaign ads may be aired on television, and bans advertising from ships and aircraft.

Six months ago, the Knesset attempted to amend the law to bring it into the internet era, but Netanyahu halted the process, and the legislation has been shelved until after the April 9 general election.

In recent years, social networks, mainly Facebook, have been cutting into advertising on television and radio, which were the primary media for election advertising for decades.

In 2016, a public committee led by retired Supreme Court President Dorit Beinisch came to the unsurprising conclusion that the law was out of date given the advances in technology. The committee recommended an expansion of the law to include the internet, particularly given that political parties spend most of their campaign budgets on social network advertising.

After the committee issued its conclusions, the Knesset drafted an amendment to the law. While debating the amendment last year, Knesset members addressed the need for transparency in election advertising.

Currently, politicians and aspiring politicians may upload live broadcasts to social networks with no oversight, something forbidden as illegal electioneering in traditional forms of the media. The amendment would fix this breach.

The amendment would also address anonymous commenters – for example, those commenting under news articles – working surreptitiously on behalf of political campaigns.

Other issues to be addressed include politicians who buy fake followers on social networks, and those who erase negative or critical comments from their social media posts, an ostensible violation of free speech.