Elections Committee bars Netanyahu from using Health Ministry slogan in campaign

Ruling says use of phrase ‘Returning to life’ could lead public to associate public health vaccination campaign with Likud political party, undermine trust

Israeli workers hang large election campaign posters of the Likud party, as part of the Likud election campaign, in Jerusalem on March 10, 2021. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)
Israeli workers hang large election campaign posters of the Likud party, as part of the Likud election campaign, in Jerusalem on March 10, 2021. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

The Central Elections Committee on Tuesday banned Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s Likud party from using the campaign slogan “Returning to life,” a reference to Israel’s recovery from the pandemic.

The slogan was disallowed because it had been taken from a Health Ministry campaign to encourage vaccination, the Walla news site reported.

Judge Uzi Fogelman said in the ruling that the use of the Health Ministry slogan “might create the impression that the government’s campaign was also on behalf of the party.”

“The use of election propaganda by a party or candidate in the name of the Health Ministry’s vaccination campaign may create an image of identification between the public service and the candidate, an identification that could damage the public’s trust in the public service and its neutral image,” Fogelman said.

The elections committee accepted a petition against Likud’s use of the slogan from a group called National Responsibility and ordered Likud to pay a fine of NIS 3,000 ($910).

The group had also sought to bar Likud and Netanyahu from campaigning at vaccination centers and health clinics, but the Elections Committee said that there was not enough evidence that campaign visits to vaccination centers violated rules that forbid using public property for campaigning.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu (left) and Health Minister Yuli Edelstein (second right) during a visit at a Leumit Covid-19 vaccination center in Tel Aviv, with the 5 millionth Israeli who received a vaccination. March 08, 2021. (Miriam Alster/Flash90)

Likud said it was changing the slogan on Monday after Attorney General Avichai Mandelblit said it should not be allowed.

The Central Elections Committee is tasked with overseeing the national vote and upholding the campaign laws. Its rulings can be appealed to the Supreme Court.

Israel heads back to the polls for the fourth time in two years on March 23.

Netanyahu had made Israel’s successful vaccination campaign a centerpiece of his reelection campaign and has appeared at vaccination centers to mark milestones in the inoculation campaign and encourage the public to get the shots.

Israel leads the world by far in per capita vaccinations and has been steadily rolling back lockdown measures after a severe third-wave virus outbreak. Many group activities are only allowed for people who have been vaccinated or recovered from the virus.

Virus numbers have been declining across the board in recent weeks in a development credited to the vaccination campaign.

Election polls have generally predicted deadlock after the vote, with neither the pro- nor anti-Netanyahu camps having a clear path to forming a governing coalition.

The upcoming elections were called after the power-sharing government of Likud and Blue and White failed to agree on a budget by a December 23 deadline.

The election, like the previous three votes, is largely seen as a referendum on Netanyahu’s rule amid his ongoing trial on corruption charges, as well as his government’s handling of the COVID-19 pandemic.

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