Opposition figures criticized an anonymous campaign against a number of journalists who have reported on criminal investigations involving Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, after a large billboard went up early Friday on a main highway in Tel Aviv.
Hadashot TV news on Saturday reported that Netanyahu’s Likud party was behind the effort. Likud declined to comment.
The poster, which was put up at the Glilot Junction, shows 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.”
The slogan was apparently alluding to the upcoming Knesset elections in April, as well as Attorney General Avichai Mandelblit’s pending decision on whether to charge Netanyahu in three separate corruption cases. It seemed to claim the featured reporters were trying to illegitimately affect the results of both.
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 advanced in exchange for favorable media coverage.
Netanyahu has regularly claimed the media and left-wing politicians are conducting a “witch hunt” against him and on Saturday, a video was released accusing them of pressuring Mandelblit to indict him “at any cost.”
Amid growing reports that Mandelblit intends to indict Netanyahu on charges of corruption — and that the announcement could be made as early as next month — the premier has intensified efforts to portray such a decision as illegitimate.
קמפיין מעניין עלה הלילה בכביש אילון תחת הכותרות 'הם לא יחליטו' עם תמונות של אמנון אברומביץ, בן כספית, רביב דרוקר וגיא פלג. מעניין מי עומד מאחוריו pic.twitter.com/ZWFSUHr023
— ישראל כהן (@Israelcohen911) January 18, 2019
A Facebook page called “They will not decide” was also launched this week. A pair of posts included videos with pictures of Abramovich, Peleg, Drucker and Caspit with accompanying text saying “if it were up to them” Jerusalem would be divided and the US Embassy would sit in the Palestinian Authority’s seat of government in Ramallah.
Neither the poster or Facebook account included any information on who was behind the campaign.
On Saturday, the left-wing Meretz party sent a letter to the State Comptroller saying the campaign 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 harms the rule of law and equality between the candidates,” they continued. “This is an invalid way to conduct campaign activities while concealing the sources of funding, which as mentioned constitutes a criminal offense that is 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.
Unite or ‘the vote is lost’
In addition to the “They will not decide” campaign, anonymous posters have also appeared over the past week calling for opposition figures and potential rivals of Netanyahu to join forces in a bid to unseat the prime minister.
The posters, which read “without unity the vote is lost,” included photos of former prime minister Ehud Barak, MK Livni, Yesh Atid leader Yair Lapid, former IDF chiefs of staff Benny Gantz and Gabi Ashkenazi, Labor Party head Avi Gabbay and ex-Likud defense minister Moshe Ya’alon. Some of the posters also feature Hatnua leader Tzipi Livni.
כולכם טובים וראויים. שבו יחד התאחדו אתם קודם כל. תנו דוגמא והובילו את המדינה למקום בטוח ומאוחד יותר. שבת שלום! pic.twitter.com/yb41fe4jUj
— Jonathan Benartzi (@jbapkingdom) January 18, 2019
Hadashot TV news said businessman Ilan Shiloh and Giora Inbar, a retired IDF brigadier general, were behind the campaign.
Besides Ashkenazi and Barak, all of the figures pictured in the posters currently head parties running against Netanyahu in the April 9 elections. Ashkenazi and Barak have indicated they too may join the political ring but have taken no official steps to do so.
Though Likud has polled far ahead of all other contenders, surveys have indicated an alliance of opposition factions could pose a challenge to the ruling party.