Central Election Committee Chairman Hanan Melcer on Thursday fined Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and his Likud Party for including election campaign messages during a live television broadcast in violation of the law.
Supreme Court Judge Hanan Melcer ordered them to pay NIS 15,000 ($4,240) to his main rival the Blue and White Party, and the same amount to the Democratic Camp. The two parties had petitioned the committee over Netanyahu’s Tuesday night press conference in which he announced that he would extend Israeli sovereignty to settlements in the Jordan Valley if he is reelected next week.
Under Israeli law, during the election period candidates may not make campaign statements in live television or radio broadcasts as there are specific scheduled times during which all party campaign advertisements are aired.
Melcer further warned that if Likud — or any other party — violates the prohibition again before the election they will be fined NIS 50,000 ($14,130).
After the Likud said Tuesday that Netanyahu would make a “dramatic announcement” later that evening Melcer had sought clarification and was told by Likud spokesperson Jonathan Urich that the press conference was of “significant news-informational value” but would not include any campaigning.
Standing in front of live television cameras Netanyahu promised to quickly apply sovereignty to the Jordan Valley, in the West Bank, if put back into office as he pitched voters ahead of the September 17 election.
Blue and White, along with the Democratic Camp appealed to the committee claiming Urich was in contempt of court for having assured Melcer that the broadcast would be propaganda-free.
Urich admitted to Melcer Thursday that while overall the press conference was “a political-historical statement with international implications,” about 25 percent of Netanyahu’s remarks qualified as campaigning.
“Media outlets around the world have covered this, it was framed as being political and many countries have responded to the prime minister’s statement, indicating the big change he is leading,” Urich said.
The spokesman explained that the campaign statements were not part of Netanyahu’s prepared speech and that the prime minister had made them off the cuff.
“The prime minister takes responsibility and spoke from his heart,” he told Melcer.
Critics on the right dismissed Netanyahu’s speech as an empty campaign promise, with some asserting that had Netanyahu wanted to, he could have annexed the territory immediately via the cabinet without waiting until after the election.