Israel Election 2019: Netanyahu Violates Election Rules With Forbidden Polls, Illegal Interviews

Though warned in advance, PM illegally gave two interviews on Election Day ■ Facebook suspends official Netanyahu page's chatbot until polls close Tuesday night

Netanyahu speaks to the Central Election Committee in Knesset, September 17, 2019.
Netanyahu speaks to the Central Election Committee in Knesset, September 17, 2019.Credit: Olivier Fitoussi

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has already violated election laws three times as of Tuesday afternoon, as Israelis continue to vote in the country's do-over election. (Click here for live election results and updates)

Netanyahu gave two illegal radio interviews on Tuesday afternoon, one to the right-wing Kol Hai station and one to Galey Yisrael. According to Section 129 of the Israel Election Law, candidates are forbidden from giving radio and television interviews from 7 P.M. the night before Election Day.

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This was reiterated last week by Central Elections Committee head Justice Hanan Melcer, who issued a clear directive forbidding these interviews in advance of Tuesday ballot. Though he permitted statements from party representatives to be aired on Election Day, they could not take the format of a broadcast interview, which would qualify it as propaganda.

Also Tuesday, Facebook announced that it has suspended the chatbot for Netanyahu's official page, after it sent out poll statistics three days prior to the election, which is forbidden by Israeli election laws.

Facebook, which said that it is required to abide by local laws and that it is working with international election committees to increase election transparency, will reactivate the chatbot after polls close, at 10 P.M. Tuesday.

Later, Melcer instructed Facebook to reactivate the chatbot on the premier's official handle. Acting on Melcer's directive, Facebook once again made the chatbot operational early Tuesday evening. Netanyahu removed previous posts that breached Israeili election law and promised not to violate it in the future.

Netanyahu violated election laws on Monday as well, after he published poll results before polls opened. A message sent to visitors via Likud's automatic messaging chatbot on Facebook said: "Right now, according to the situation [as reflected in] our internal polls, we are losing the election," next to an illustration that read: "The right-wing bloc has 56 seats" and "the left-wing-Lieberman-Arab parties bloc has 64 seats." Melcer instructed Netanyahu to remove all such content by Monday morning.

In another violation on Monday, Netanyahu shared a campaign video for Likud on social media featuring a fabricated post-election Army Radio broadcast. The clip uses the Army Radio's musical riff and full name, an infraction of the law forbidding the use of the Israeli army for campaigning.

In the fake broadcast, the presenter reports that the Joint List's Ahmed Tibi was appointed public security minister and member of the security cabinet, and issued instructions "not to allow Jews onto the Temple Mount until further instruction." The presenter then calls Netanyahu "opposition chairman Knesset member Benjamin Netanyahu" and reads his response. By the clip, Netanyahu writes: "If you don't vote Likud tomorrow – this nightmare could become reality."

Last week, the Central Election Committee fined Likud 30,000 shekels for illegal propaganda after Netanyahu gave a press conference in which he declared that, if re-elected, he would annex the Jordan Valley. The Kahol Lavan and Democratic Union parties protested to the committee on the grounds of prohibited electioneering. Melcer ruled that the money would be paid to the two parties and that any future violation by Likud would cost the party 50,000 shekels.

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