Israel's Election Committee Bans Anonymous Online Ads Despite Likud Objections

Such advertising ‘would make it difficult for security officials to dispel concern over foreign interference in the election,’ committee chairman says

Likud campaign posters displayed in Tel Aviv, February 5, 2019.
Meged Gozani

Central Election Committee chair prohibited Wednesday parties running in the April 9 election from running anonymous election advertising on the internet despite objections from Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s Likud party.

Supreme Court Justice Hanan Melcer, who heads the commmittee, also ordered Likud, the only party to object, to pay 10,000 shekels ($2,800) in expenses to two lawyers, Shachar Ben Meir and Itzhak Aviram, who filed a request with the committee seeking the anonymous internet ad ban.

The ban will come into effect on Friday and will apply to social media and search engines as well as subcontractors working for a fee, either for political parties or in coordination with a party.

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Melcer cautioned that anonymous ads could make it difficult for security officials to spot foreign intervention in the Israeli election campaign. The step, he said, was being taken “against the backdrop of suspicions and lessons from election campaigns in other countries in prior years.”

The ban is exceptional in light of the fact that there is no clear legislation on the issue. Over the course of his current term in office, Netanyahu put a halt to efforts to pass a law that would have imposed such a ban. Then a few weeks ago, the legal adviser to the prime minister’s Likud party, Avi Halevy, expressed opposition to Melcer’s proposal that such a ban be imposed without legislation.

The Knesset bill on the subject was based on the recommendations of a panel headed by retired Supreme Court President Dorit Beinisch that examined adapting election advertising rules to the internet age.

In his decision to impose the ban, Melcer said responsibility for oversight of election advertising could apply to online advertising platforms just as it has to newspaper ads.