Central Elections Committee: No anonymous electioneering via SMS messages

In response to petition by Yisrael Beitenu against Meretz, Judge Hanan Melcer also rules that SMS surveys must include all parties expected by polls to win at least 1% of vote

Sue Surkes is The Times of Israel's environment reporter.

Supreme Court Justice Hanan Melcer, chairman of the Central Elections Committee, and Orly Ades, the committee's director general, seen on February 21, 2019. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)
Supreme Court Justice Hanan Melcer, chairman of the Central Elections Committee, and Orly Ades, the committee's director general, seen on February 21, 2019. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

The chairman of the Central Elections Committee on Tuesday ruled against the use of anonymous election-related text messages and of telephone surveys of voter intentions that exclude some smaller parties.

Supreme Court Justice Hanan Melcer handed down his ruling in response to a petition from the right-wing Yisrael Beitenu party against the left-wing Meretz party, two owners of cellular phones and various communications companies.

In early March, Meretz sent out an anonymous text message asking recipients to choose between various parties running in the election, set for April 9.

Yisrael Beytenu, which polls have suggested may not clear the threshold to enter the 21st Knesset, was not on the list of options.

Yisrael Beytenu party leader Avigdor Liberman speaks at an event in Ganei Tikva, on February 25, 2019. (Flash90)

Yisrael Beytenu, headed by Avigdor Liberman, complained that by excluding it from the list, the text message unfairly suggested either that it was not running or that it had no chance of winning any seats.

In his ruling, Melcer stressed that any campaign advertising, via any medium, carried out in the name of any political party, had to carry the name of the person who commissioned the publicity and identify the party or candidate list involved.

Surveys also had to include all parties predicted, by an average of the polls, to garner at least one percent of the vote.

Melcer added that he would convey his decision to the director general of the Communications Ministry so that it could be passed on to the various communications companies.

In a separate move, Justice Minister Ayelet Shaked announced on Twitter on Tuesday that she would complain to the committee about an anonymous text message which she claimed emanated from the Likud party.

Justice Minister Ayelet Shaked and Education Minister Naftali Bennett hold a press conference of the New Right Political party, in Tel Aviv on March 17, 2019. (Flash90)

The text message, she said, falsely asserted that after the elections, the New Right party, which she heads together with Naftali Bennett, would recommend to the president that the Blue and White Party form the next government.

“I am clarifying: We will recommend Netanyahu as prime minister and will not sit in a government headed by Gantz,” she wrote. “Don’t believe the lies that get to your cellphones.”

The Elections Law (Propaganda Methods) of 1959 was written before the advent of the internet.

The Likud party blocked efforts to legislate the extension of that law to online content, and refused to sign an accord between all parties committing to clearly claim authorship of their online campaign materials.

Because of, or in spite of, the law’s limitations, and in a move reflecting judicial activism, Melcer decided last month to ban anonymous election ads on all platforms, including social media, from both within Israel and abroad, in order to prevent “manipulative propaganda and attempts to implant false consciousness in the minds of voters”

תוך כדי לחימה בדרום הארץ, הליכוד מוציא הודעות סמס שקריות באופן אנונימי נגד הימין החדש, בטענה שאחרי הבחירות נמליץ על גנץ….

Posted by ‎איילת שקד – Ayelet Shaked‎ on Monday, March 25, 2019

Shaked’s decision to use this ruling against the Likud is ironic given her abhorrence of judicial activism — judges’ willingness to intervene and sometimes override the decisions of government — to the extent that defeating judicial activism in the High Court is a central plank of her election campaign.

Justice Minister Ayelet Shaked’s Facebook page carries the message, “Shaked will beat the High Court, Bennett will beat Hamas.” (Facebook)

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