Judge issues injunction banning Netanyahu from posting photos with IDF soldiers
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Judge issues injunction banning Netanyahu from posting photos with IDF soldiers

After PM mocked attorney general’s legal opinion, judge overseeing elections confirms publishing such material breaches election laws; court to discuss issue on Sunday

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu (R), accompanied by Maj. Gen. Yoel Strick (L), commander of the Israel Defense Forces Northern Command, meets with soldiers in the northern city of Safed on December 11, 2018. (Jalaa Marey/AFP)
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu (R), accompanied by Maj. Gen. Yoel Strick (L), commander of the Israel Defense Forces Northern Command, meets with soldiers in the northern city of Safed on December 11, 2018. (Jalaa Marey/AFP)

The Central Elections Committee on Wednesday issued a temporary injunction banning Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and his Likud party from publishing social media photos of the premier alongside IDF soldiers.

Last Thursday, Mandelblit issued a legal opinion saying that Netanyahu, who also serves as defense minister, cannot release photographs of himself meeting IDF soldiers for campaign purposes until Israelis head to the polls on April 9.

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

However, on Tuesday, Netanyahu mocked Mandelblit’s decision as “amusing” in a video to his social media followers ahead of his visit to a Navy base in Haifa — after which his office did release photos of Netanyahu with the troops.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu in a video to his social media followers, February 11, 2019. (Screenshot: Twitter)

“I would’ve really liked to take you inside, but they have some weird instruction — no taking photos with soldiers,” he said. “I was also a soldier, so can I not be photographed as well?”

Mandelblit’s decision only refers to soldiers currently on duty, since only they are banned from engaging in public political activity.

The attorney general had issued the ruling in response to a Labor Party petition filed against Netanyahu.

Justice Hanan Melcer. (Miriam Alster/Flash90)

On Wednesday, Supreme Court Judge Hanan Melcer, who heads the Central Elections Committee, issued the injunction which will be in force until Sunday, when the petition will be discussed by the court.

The discussion was postponed at the Likud’s request since Netanyahu is abroad and the party’s legal adviser is busy overseeing a fresh submittal of the results in last week’s primaries, which saw significant irregularities.

Melcer ordered all photos and videos with soldiers published by Netanyahu and Likud since January 9 deleted immediately.

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.

Attorney General Avichai Mandelblit attends a State Control Committee meeting in the Knesset on December 3, 2018. (Miriam Alster/Flash90)

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

Mandelblit 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 this week canceled two scheduled visits to army bases. One of them on Monday was also supposed to be to a Navy base in Haifa, and the other was scheduled for Tuesday at a Givati Brigade drill in the Jordan Valley.

Times of Israel staff contributed to this report.

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