Political parties fined over campaign finance violations during 2019 elections

Comptroller says Likud event was illegal, finds many fake social media accounts spread propaganda that may have affected results

State Comptroller Matanyahu Englman attends a press conference in Jerusalem announcing an investigation into the Mount Meron tragedy on May 3, 2021. (Olivier Fitoussi/Flash90)
State Comptroller Matanyahu Englman attends a press conference in Jerusalem announcing an investigation into the Mount Meron tragedy on May 3, 2021. (Olivier Fitoussi/Flash90)

Fake social media accounts published election propaganda for various parties, many factions violated financing laws, and former prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s Likud broke the law by holding a conference dedicated to promoting the party, according to a new ombudsman report on the April 2019 and September 2019 elections.

State Comptroller Matanyahu Englman published the findings on Tuesday in a report detailing financial and other misdeeds by political parties during the two Knesset election cycles held in 2019, which kicked off an extended political crisis that saw four national votes held in under two years.

The report didn’t cover the more recent March 2020 and March 2021 elections.

The comptroller said he found indications that parties — the report said it couldn’t be determined which — paid to increase the numbers of followers of social media pages and to operate fake accounts echoing various propaganda messages.

“The research results show there is a concern that social media is featuring widespread discourse that purports to be authentic, which could mislead the public… and even affect the outcome of the election,” Englman wrote.

The comptroller found that in the first election, three factions — the Joint List’s Ta’al, Meretz, and United Torah Judaism’s Degel HaTorah — spent more money than allowed by law. His office fined Ta’al NIS 100,000 ($31,600), Meretz NIS 75,000 ($23,700) and Degel HaTorah NIS 30,000 ($9,500).

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu approaches rival Benny Gantz as they and other party leaders including Avigdor Liberman and Aryeh Deri prepare to pose for a group picture during the swearing-in of the 22nd Knesset in Jerusalem, on October 3, 2019. (Hadas Parush/Flash90)

But in the second election in September 2019, no fewer than seven factions were fined for such violations. Likud, Labor, Ehud Barak’s Atzmaut and Meretz weer each slapped with NIS 200,000 ($63,200) fines, the Green Movement was fined NIS 100,000 ($31,600), Shas was fined NIS 50,000 ($15,800) and Gesher was fined NIS 30,000 ($9,500).

The ombudsman imposed an additional NIS 50,000 ($15,800) fine on Netanyahu’s Likud for organizing an installation of an annual conference shortly before the vote that was called the “Leumiada,” after it had been called the “Likudiada” in the previous three years.

The event was criticized after Likud lawmakers and ministers spoke there in speeches quoted by the media.

Englman deemed the conference an “illicit” boost to Likud’s campaign, since “there are many characteristics that testify to a direct and clear connection between these events and the faction, and to their contribution to the promotion of its interests.”

The report also detailed how Moshe Ya’alon’s Telem faction covered its financial shortages after the election using funds raised by Ya’alon before the vote for a nonprofit he headed. Ya’alon, a former defense minister and IDF chief of staff, was fined NIS 50,000 ($15,800).

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