Election czar orders Blue and White’s final event shut down as Gantz speaks
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Election czar orders Blue and White’s final event shut down as Gantz speaks

Hanan Melcer deems gathering a violation of campaign laws in final hours before vote; also bans businesses from giving election day discounts to voters

Blue and White Party chairman MK Benny Gantz speaks at an event in Kfar Ahim, a day before the elections, on September 16, 2019. (Flash90)
Blue and White Party chairman MK Benny Gantz speaks at an event in Kfar Ahim, a day before the elections, on September 16, 2019. (Flash90)

The Central Elections Committee on Monday ordered the Blue and White party to halt its final event before polls open on Tuesday morning, saying the gathering violated election laws against campaigning in the hours before voting begins.

Supreme Court Justice Hanan Melcer, who chairs the Central Elections Committee and has overall responsibility for ensuring the fairness and accuracy of the vote, ordered the shutdown in response to a petition by the Likud party, which had only protested the live media coverage of the event rather than the event itself.

It was not immediately clear how quickly the order disrupted the event. Hebrew media reports said that party leader Benny Gantz was at least partway through his speech when the injunction came through and that he continued to speak.

Under Israeli election law, parties may not deliver campaign messages during live broadcasts starting from six days before elections are held, and may not organize any kind of campaign event in the 12 hours before polling stations open.

The Blue and White event, billed as “the last campaign conference,” was scheduled to start at 8:30 p.m. in Kfar Ahim, the south central agricultural community where Gantz grew up.

Justice Hanan Melcer, chairman of the Central Elections Committee. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

Likud had petitioned the committee, saying it “will constitute a blatant violation” of election laws and that there is a “great concern” that Gantz’s speech “will include content that is electioneering, on various topics.” Therefore, Likud wrote, it should not be covered by live broadcast.

In his decision, Melcer referred to the law that sets a 7 p.m. deadline for all campaign events to conclude on the eve of an election, and said he was therefore issuing “an injunction not to hold the scheduled election event.”

Blue and White said the event was closed to media and was intended to be a gathering of Gantz’s childhood friends and his family.

The centrist party is the main rival to Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s Likud party and Gantz is the only candidate who could realistically unseat the premier.

Melcer on Monday also forbade businesses from granting price reductions to those who prove they voted. The committee chair noted that offering incentives to vote — or not vote — is against the law.

Earlier in the day, Melcer similarly ruled that Tel Aviv municipality cannot offer benefits for the city’s residents if they vote. The ultra-Orthodox Shas party had complained to the election committee that the municipality’s offer, which included a limited number of free admission passes to selected swimming pools, tours of the city, movie screenings and cheap beer, would amount to the use of public resources to bribe the city’s predominantly left-wing voters.

In its complaint to the Central Elections Committee, Shas said that the fact that many of the venues were not kosher and that all the pools are located in the north of the city (which is false), where voters tend to vote for left-wing parties, showed that the get-out-the-vote effort was essentially partisan.

Political pundits have assessed that voter turnout will be a key factor in the election amid fears of public apathy in what is Israel’s second election in five months. After the April election, Netanyahu was unable to form a majority coalition and dissolved parliament, calling fresh elections for September 17.

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