Election committee fines Likud, orders it remove images of Netanyahu with troops

Injunction comes in response to Labor party appeal against PM using photos of himself with soldiers in campaign materials

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu takes a selfie with a soldier during an event for lone soldiers in Tel Aviv, on January 24, 2019. (Marc Israel Sellem/Pool/Flash90)
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu takes a selfie with a soldier during an event for lone soldiers in Tel Aviv, on January 24, 2019. (Marc Israel Sellem/Pool/Flash90)

The Central Elections Committee on Monday barred Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s Likud party from publishing campaign materials that include images of the premier with Israeli troops.

The committee also hit Likud with a NIS 15,000 ($4,145) fine and ordered it to take down any pictures or video of Netanyahu with soldiers that it released after January 9.

The injunction makes permanent a temporary order the committee issued last week saying Netanyahu, who also serves as defense minister, cannot release photographs of himself meeting Israel Defense Forces troops for election purposes.

Campaign advertising rules forbid using uniformed soldiers in campaign material and it is illegal to campaign on IDF bases.

The ruling came in response to an appeal filed by the opposition Labor party.

“We welcome the decision of the Central Elections Committee chair. The prime minister cannot continue to use IDF soldiers as extras in his campaign,” the party said in a statement Monday.

Attorney General Avichai Mandelblit speaks at the Globes conference in Jerusalem on December 20, 2018. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

Ahead of last week’s ruling, Attorney General Avichai Mandelblit issued a legal opinion barring candidates from using images of themselves with soldiers until after Israelis go to the polls on April 9.

The attorney general’s legal opinion applies to all candidates, but affects Netanyahu’s campaign materials most significantly. Netanyahu’s office had been releasing photographs of him visiting IDF units several times a week since the Knesset voted to head to elections in December. The attorney general specified that the decision also applied to social media posts.

Mandelblit’s opinion also said Netanyahu cannot deliver political speeches during IDF base visits.

He clarified the restrictions only apply to publicizing the photos. There is no limit on the defense minister conducting base visits, nor do the rules apply in cases of operational need, such as a public announcement in a national-security emergency.

Following the announcement, Netanyahu canceled a pair of scheduled visits last week to IDF bases.

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