Netanyahu Keeps Posing With Soldiers for Election Campaign Against the Law

An August ruling ordered the prime minister to take down advertising that threatens the army's political neutrality

Kochavi, right, and Netanyahu, center at the Sirkin army base in January, 2019.
Tomer Appelbaum

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is still using images of the military in his campaign advertising, despite having been ordered to stop by the Central Elections Committee, Haaretz has found. (For the latest election polls – click here)

Last month, committee chairman Justice Hanan Melcer ruled that Netanyahu broke the law by posting a video on his Facebook page that showed him at an air force base together with the IDF chief of staff and the air force commander. He also ruled that Netanyahu must remove that post and any similar posts.

Netanyahu touring an Israel Air Force base.Benjamin Netanyahu / Facebook

But as of Sunday, only one video – the one specifically mentioned in Melcer’s ruling – had been taken down.

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Netanyahu and his Likud party have posted numerous videos and photographs of the prime minister alongside soldiers and senior officers, at bases and at the scenes of terror attacks, in the lead-up to both this and the April 2019 election. But campaign advertising law forbids making use of the military “in a way likely to create the impression that it is identified with a particular party or ticket.”

Israel Defense Forces Chief of Staff Lt. Gen. Aviv Kochavi, who appears in some of these videos, has declined to comment on the issue, even though he, too, is bound by military regulations that require the army to remain politically neutral.

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Melcer’s ruling was in response to a petition by the Movement for Quality Government in Israel over a video Netanyahu posted on July 9. The clip showed Netanyahu at the Nevatim airbase with an F-35 fighter jet in the background, saying “Iran should remember that our planes can also reach it.” Later in the clip, Netanyahu was seen chatting with Kochavi and Israeli Air Force Commander Maj. Gen. Amikam Norkin. It was initially published on the Prime Minister’s Office's social media accounts, and later, with minor changes, on Netanyahu’s personal accounts.

The petition argued that the clip violated both the law and a ruling Melcer issued prior to April’s election. That ruling forbade Netanyahu to post ads that included pictures of soldiers in uniform or weaponry.

On August 20, Melcer ruled that the July 9 clip and all similar clips should be removed from all partisan social media accounts, saying they constituted a misuse of public assets for campaign purposes. Nevertheless, he rejected the petitioner’s request that Netanyahu and Likud be found in contempt of the court and fined for their repeated violations of the law. Since the video had already been taken down, Justice Melcer only required the offender to pay 10,000 shekels ($2,800) in court costs.

In his ruling, he criticized Netanyahu for using footage taken by the Government Press Office without paying for it, and for not asking his ministry’s legal advisor for permission to post the clip before doing so. He rejected Likud’s claim that such clips were useful in deterring the state’s enemies, saying that goal could be achieved by posting them on the state’s official social media channels.

The ruling also ordered the IDF – particularly Kochavi and Military Advocate General Gen. Sharon Afek – to make it clear to soldiers that they may not be photographed with anyone running for office, and that if such pictures already exist, troops should not share them during the campaign. The army said it has passed this order on to all personnel, and did so before the April election as well.

Likud party officials declined to comment.