Israel Election: Coronavirus Provides Latest Fake News Challenge

No Israelis have been found to have the Coronavirus but hundreds are under quarantine, so the election committee has moved to quell fears

People wearing masks at the Ben-Gurion Airport to avoid contracting the coronavirus, February 25, 2020.
Ofer Vaknin

The Central Elections Committee said Wednesday that after two general elections that forced it to hone its efforts against fake news, it now faces a new challenge: Fears about the coronavirus and the spread of false information about it.

On Monday, Israelis will go to the polls for the third time in 11 months as Prime Minister Benjanim Netanyahu’s Likud and Benny Gantz’s Kahol Lavan each strive to finally put together a governing coalition.

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“We ask the public to be very alert and we understand that there may be an attempt to spread fake news about the coronavirus,” the election committee’s director, Orly Ades, told a press conference. “Carefully check every report. We will have an information center to help refute baseless rumors.”

She added: “Bear in mind that there are not yet any cases of coronavirus infection in Israel,” and that the hundreds of Israelis who have been instructed to remain in isolation will be allowed to go outside to vote if they are not coughing and have a temperature under 38 degrees Celsius (100.4 Fahrenheit).

“They must wear a mask on the way,” she said. “They may not travel on public transportation, and they must do their best to avoid public spaces and close contact with people.”

Counting the votes after Israel's general election of September 17, 2019.
Olivier Fitoussi

Ades reiterated that the committee would set up special voting booths for anyone under quarantine. “They will not be in the same locations as the regular polling places,” she said, reiterating that a barrier will separate quarantined voters from polling-station staff, who will sit in an adjacent tent.

Quarantined voters “will receive a protective kit that includes a mask, gloves and a disposable pen. The supervisor at the entrance to the polling place will be in protective gear.”

The election committee’s budget has been increased to 392 million shekels ($114 million) from 324 million. Ades and the committee are also girding for any attempts at election fraud by party activists.

She said the committee had increased its number of inspectors to 5,000, but this is still 1,000 short of the desired number.

“Unlike in previous elections, if they encounter a reasonable concern about a violation of the integrity of the election, they are authorized to film without obtaining prior permission from the Central Elections Committee,” she said.

Ades also instructed the committee to ensure that every ballot box is locked with special tamper-proof ties.

“We are quite sure that they will make it harder for anyone who seeks to harm the election process,” Ades said, adding that more supervisors would be added to thousands of polling stations to improve oversight of the vote-counting.

She added that the committee had developed a system for spotting aberrations in the data.

“This will not delay the counting, because the votes from each polling station are counted on the spot and relayed to the system, but there will be a delay in the publication of the results on the committee’s website,” she said.