Elections czar orders Gantz to delete social media pictures with soldiers

Judge says photos of defense minister with troops during recent Gaza Strip fighting violate campaign rules; Lapid avoid slap on wrist by taking snaps down on his own

Prime Minister Yair Lapid (L) and Defense Minister Benny Gantz (2nd-L) tour the IDF's Southern Command on August 7, 2022, amid fighting in the Gaza Strip between Israel and the Palestinian Islamic Jihad terror group. (Haim Zach/GPO)
Prime Minister Yair Lapid (L) and Defense Minister Benny Gantz (2nd-L) tour the IDF's Southern Command on August 7, 2022, amid fighting in the Gaza Strip between Israel and the Palestinian Islamic Jihad terror group. (Haim Zach/GPO)

The Central Elections Committee on Wednesday ordered Defense Minister Benny Gantz to remove photos from his personal social media accounts showing him with soldiers during a recent flareup with Gaza, saying he was violating electioneering rules.

The decision came in response to a petition by the Likud party that accused both Gantz and Prime Minister Yair Lapid of illegally campaigning by posting photos of themselves with soldiers online, echoing a similar claim against Likud leader Benjamin Netanyahu in 2019.

The committee, which adjudicates inter-factional disputes before and during elections, ordered Gantz, head of the National Unity party, to take the photos down and his party to pay NIS 10,000 ($3,000) in legal expenses to the Likud.

Committee chair Isaac Amit, a Supreme Court justice, did not rule against Lapid, as the prime minister and Yesh Atid leader had already removed the offending photos from his personal social media accounts.

Amit also rejected a demand by Likud that Lapid and Gantz not be permitted to post photos of themselves with soldiers on official ministry websites as they are state institutes that should not be used for electioneering. Regarding that claim, Amit ruled that there is “a news-informative value to these publications.”

Lapid and Gantz had posted photos of themselves meeting with senior IDF officers in the south of the country during Operation Breaking Dawn, a three-day offensive against the Palestinian Islamic Jihad terror group in the Gaza Strip.

Israeli campaign advertising laws forbid using uniformed soldiers in campaign materials, and it is illegal to conduct political campaigns on IDF bases. However, the two had argued that the pictures were part of efforts to inform the public of steps the government was taking during the tense conflagration.

As of 6:30 p.m., the pictures remained on Gantz’s social media accounts. It was unclear how long he has to remove them.

Screenshot taken on August 24, 2022, of a tweet posted by Defense Minister Benny Gantz, center, showing him meeting with IDF brass for an update on Operation Breaking Dawn on August 8, 2022. (Screen capture: Twitter)

In 2019, Netanyahu, who was then prime minister, was ordered to remove photos and videos of himself visiting IDF soldiers and bases by the attorney general, his ministry’s legal adviser, and the Supreme Court justice who heads the Central Elections Committee.

After Netanyahu appeared to flout the orders, the committee issued a temporary injunction banning Netanyahu and his Likud party from publishing social media photos of the premier, who also served as defense minister, alongside IDF soldiers.

Shortly after the order from the committee, nearly all photos of Netanyahu with uniformed IDF soldiers were removed from the prime minister’s and his party’s Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram accounts.

Netanyahu and Lapid are both vying for the role of the prime minister at the November 1 elections, the fifth vote since 2019.

Most Popular
read more: