Likud proudly claims campaign against journalists who report on Netanyahu cases

PM and his ruling party say they are behind anonymous poster accusing members of the press of seeking to sway elections

Raoul Wootliff is a former Times of Israel political correspondent and Daily Briefing podcast producer.

An election campaign poster for the Likud party featuring journalists (L-R) Raviv Drucker, Guy Peleg, Amnon Abramovich and Ben Caspit, saying, "They will not decide. You will decide" in central Israel, January 20, 2019. (Twitter)
An election campaign poster for the Likud party featuring journalists (L-R) Raviv Drucker, Guy Peleg, Amnon Abramovich and Ben Caspit, saying, "They will not decide. You will decide" in central Israel, January 20, 2019. (Twitter)

After opposition figures criticized an anonymous campaign against a number of journalists who have reported on criminal investigations involving Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, the Likud party on Sunday morning took responsibility for the billboard and adopted the image alongside its new campaign slogan.

The initial poster, which was put up at the Glilot Junction on Route 5 not far from Tel Aviv, showed pictures of reporters Amnon Abramovich and Guy Peleg from Hadashot TV news, Channel 13’s Raviv Drucker, and Ben Caspit of the Maariv daily. Above them was written: “They will not decide” — apparently referring to the results of the April 9 elections.

On Sunday, the same image appeared in Likud posters plastered on the sides of highways in the center of the country, along with the slogan “You will decide.” Images of the posters were also uploaded to Netanyahu’s and Likud’s official social media platforms.

The posters also added the slogan, “Davka Netanyahu. Likud.”

The Hebrew word davka — literally translatable as “in spite [of something],” “specifically” or “unexpectedly” — has several possible connotations in this context. The slogan can be understood as urging voters to support Netanyahu despite, or because of, media criticism of him and/or the three graft probes against him. It can also be viewed as calling for voters to specifically back Netanyahu in the face of longtime opposition calls to vote for “anyone but Netanyahu,” or in view of the fracturing of the right into multiple new Knesset slates.

Linked to the photo of the journalists, the slogan was apparently alluding to Attorney General Avichai Mandelblit’s pending decision on whether to charge Netanyahu in the corruption cases. It seemed to claim the featured reporters were trying to illegitimately affect the results of the elections.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu (L) and then-cabinet secretary Avichai Mandelblit at the weekly cabinet meeting at the Prime Minister’s Office in Jerusalem on July 5, 2015. (Emil Salman/Pool/Flash90)

One of the probes relates to gifts Netanyahu received from billionaire benefactors and the other two cases involve suspected quid pro quos he is alleged to have provided or considered providing in exchange for favorable media coverage.

Netanyahu, who has regularly claimed the media and left-wing politicians are conducting a “witch hunt” against him, on Saturday released a video accusing them of pressuring Mandelblit to indict him “at any cost.”

He then attacked Mandelblit in a Facebook post for what he called a “setup” after the broadcast of a TV profile of Mandelblit, saying comments the attorney general gave for the piece were “unprecedented” and accusing him of launching probes without hard evidence against the premier.

Amid mounting reports that Mandelblit is leaning toward indicting Netanyahu on charges of bribery — and that the announcement could be made as early as next month — Netanyahu has intensified efforts to portray such a decision as illegitimate.

A Facebook page called “They will not decide” was also launched this week. A pair of posts included videos with pictures of the reporters Abramovich, Peleg, Drucker and Caspit with, accompanying text saying that “if it were up to them” Jerusalem would be divided and the US embassy would be located in the Palestinian Authority’s seat of government in Ramallah.

Initially, the Facebook account didn’t include any information on who was behind it. On Sunday morning, its posts and photos were updated to reflect that it was a Likud campaign.

State Comptroller Yosef Shapira attends the presentation of the State Comptroller’s report at the Knesset, March 14, 2018. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

On Saturday, the left-wing Meretz party sent a letter to the state comptroller saying that the campaign, which was still anonymous at the time of its complaint, violated electoral law.

“A body that is active in the elections must register with the state comptroller and meet the relevant legal provisions,” Meretz secretary general Tomer Reznik and party attorney Dror Morag wrote.

“Prohibited activity by an active body in the elections is damaging to the rule of law and equality among candidates,” they continued. “This is an illegitimate way to conduct campaign activities while concealing the sources of funding, which as mentioned constitutes a criminal offense punishable with imprisonment.”

Reznik and Morag also asked State Comptroller Yosef Shapira to invoke campaign finance law to obtain documents from the “They will not decide” campaign detailing its activities.

The campaign was also criticized by opposition Labor MK Itzik Shmuli and Hatnua party leader Tzipi Livni, as well as the Israel Press Council.

“We view the unsigned poster bearing the images of journalists as the start of another incitement effort during an election campaign,” the council said in a statement.

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