The chairman of the Central Elections Committee, Justice Elyakim Rubinstein, said Sunday that Israelis must respect a High Court of Justice decision to permit previously banned certain sections of campaign broadcasts by the far-right Strong Israel party and the Arab party Balad.
Rubinstein had originally outlawed the Balad television advert and parts of the Strong Israel radio advert, but the decision was overturned following in a court appeal, a rare sign of cooperation between the two politically opposed parties. From the Strong Israel radio ad, Rubinstein had ruled for the removal of the phrase "there are no privileges without obligations, and without fulfilling obligations, you cannot demand privileges," which is said in Arabic, and the words "no to an Arab state, no to a state of [African] infiltrators."
The commercial by Balad, which he had banned in its entirety, features a belly-dancing, googly-eyed cartoon of Yisrael Beytenu leader Avigdor Liberman singing a version of the national anthem, HaTikvah, with a Middle-Eastern-music twist. Liberman is flanked by right-wing MKs Arieh Eldad (Strong Israel), Danny Danon (Likud), Michael Ben-Ari (Strong Israel) and Ofir Akunis (Likud).
Rubinstein said Sunday that one must respect the court's decision, even though he believes the broadcasts contain racist messages that have no place in the Jewish state.
The High Court last Tuesday accepted a petition filed by Strong Israel and Balad, reversing Rubinstein's decision.
Ophir Bar-Zohar, spokeswoman of nonprofit Palestinian-run legal center Adalah, said it “praises the High Court for accepting all of the claims of the Balad party, according to which the purpose of the broadcast was to voice criticism in a satirical manner on the attempt to legislate an obligation on Arab citizens to declare loyalty to the national anthem.”
She added that the High Court’s decision “clarified unequivocally that the broadcast was covered by freedom of speech” principles and could not be limited or banned.
Strong Israel responded to the ruling, saying the decision to “block their broadcast had caused them injustice” and that the court’s ruling reaffirmed their right to raise questions about the balance of rights and obligations in the Israeli Arab sector.
In reversing the committee’s decision, Supreme Court President Justice Asher D. Grunis said the balance of the considerations, including the fact that Balad’s broadcast had already been uploaded and played a vast number of times on the Internet and used in foreign media all over the world.
He added that, “it may be time to reevaluate the law in light of the changing unforeseen realities,” referring to the fact that current election law may not fully ancitipate the impact and speed with which broadcasts can be shared and go viral online.
Meanwhile, the Central Election Committee will increase advertisements explaining that it is possible to vote without a "notice to voters" postcard, following an instruction by Interior Minister Eli Yishai on Sunday.
Yishai's directive followed complaints about the company hired to distribute the postcards from those who never received the notice in the mail. If the company does not fix its shortcomings before Election Day, the Interior Ministry will not pay for its services.
The Interior Ministry will also allocate more resource to voter information lines, which citizens can call to inquire about where to vote.
"Voting is a right, and the Interior Ministry is committed to ensuring all citizens can exercise that right," Yishai stated.
Yonah Jeremy Bob and Lahav Harkov contributed to this report.