Israel Election 2019: In 'Emergency' Move, Netanyahu Repeatedly Breaks Election Laws Hours Before Polls Close

Flooding the internet with live appearances, PM calls on his supporters to come to his aid and warns of high voter turnouts in ‘Arab’ and ‘leftist’ strongholds

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu at a special cabinet meeting where he announced the green-lighting of a new settlement in the Jordan Valley, September 15, 2019.
Marc Israel Sellem

In a whirlwind of activity, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu fought furiously to keep his job from the moment the polls opened on Tuesday morning throughout the day, including using tactics which violated Israeli election law. (LIVE election results: Netanyahu fails to secure ruling majority)

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Netanyahu and his Likud party faced sanctions as a result of the various transgressions.

For three hours, Facebook shut down the automatic messaging chatbot on Netanyahu’s page after it broadcast messages that included election polling, which is forbidden by the Central Elections Committee – polls can only be published until four days before the election. Only after Netanyahu removed previous posts that breached the election law and promised not violate it further did Central Elections Committee head Justice Hanan Melcer direct Facebook to reactivate it.

It wasn’t the first time Netanyahu was sanctioned for his activity on the social network. Last week, Facebook suspended Netanyahu’s chatbot for 24 hours after it sent messages stating that “Arabs want to annihilate us.” Facebook said the statement violated its policy on hate speech.

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Still, Netanyahu continued to flood the internet with “emergency” appearances on Facebook Live and across other social media platforms on Election Day, calling on his supporters to come to his aid and warning that high voter turnouts in “Arab” and “leftist” strongholds pointed to defeat for the right-wing bloc. For most of the day, turnout across the country was running only slightly higher than in April’s polling. By 4 P.M., the voter turnout in Israel was 44.3 percent, 1.5 percent higher than in April according to the Central Elections Committee.

He put out the same call on two right-wing radio stations – Kol Hai and Galey Yisrael – once again violating election statutes. According to Section 129 of the Israel Election Law, candidates are forbidden from giving radio and television interviews on Election Day. Last week, Melcer issued a clear directive emphasizing the fact that radio and television interviews with candidates on Election Day were forbidden.

In addition to their efforts on the internet and a blitz of text messages to voters’ telephones, the candidates traveled the country for in-person appearances. Netanyahu stayed close to home in Jerusalem, venturing out only briefly to nearby locations like Mahaneh Yehuda market. His chief rival, Kahol Lavan’s Benny Gantz, barnstormed the country, greeting voters in shopping malls and Tel Aviv beaches and urging them to head to the voting booths if they hadn’t done so already on their day off.

Following the controversy over whether partisan observers could film at polling places, which was ultimately forbidden in a blow to Netanyahu and the Likud party, the Central Elections Committee took the step of deploying 3,000 election monitors of its own. Most of them were outfitted with body cameras to document any irregularities in an unprecedented effort at transparency.

Because of these new measures, there will be a significantly longer delay in reporting the final results than in previous elections: Only about 80 percent of the count is expected to be released by Wednesday at 2 P.M. – perhaps even later if problems arise in counting the votes.

The camera issue remained a point of contention throughout the day. In the Arab city of Umm al-Fahm the police briefly closed a voting station after a precinct secretary began filming voters.

A range of parties were accused of breaching other election regulations throughout Election Day. The Central Elections Committee issued a ban on the ultra-Orthodox Shas party’s giving away talismans and prayer books at polling stations, following a complaint by the Democratic Union. Yisrael Beiteinu filed a complaint alleging that Likud members were handing out Russian calendars in Petah Tikvah – and in another precinct, Likud was sanctioned for giving out ice cream to voters. Election law prohibits the distribution of any kind of gifts.

Four polling stations in the Arab village of Yarka were temporarily closed due to suspected fraud. According to the police, voters attempted to cast multiple ballots at the same time. Later, the stations were reopened and were ordered to stay open until midnight, to make up for the time they were closed to the public.