Attorney-General Avichai Mandelblit .
(photo credit: MARC ISRAEL SELLEM)
The Likud must identify itself as behind any campaigns, social media or otherwise, that it is funding and connected to, Attorney-General Avichai Mandelblit told the Central Elections Committee on Tuesday. He was responding to a Blue and White Party request to block a campaign and penalize the Likud.
Mandelblit sidestepped the question of whether the Likud has already violated election campaign laws following one of its officials reportedly admitting to being behind the “Moving Rightward” campaign, which did not identify itself with the Likud, but appeared designed to help the party.
Justice Hanan Meltzer reportedly warned the Likud official that he might have violated the law.
Regarding a possible social media campaign of bots (which automatically forward certain messages) clandestinely funded by the Likud, Mandelblit said that to date he only has information contained in Monday’s article by Ronen Bergman in Yediot Aharonot and The New York Times, but has not yet had an opportunity to verify the allegations in that article.
In that sense, Mandelblit was telling the committee that should it conclude that the Likud used a social media or other campaign to its benefit without identifying that it was behind it, that action would violate election campaign laws.
Separately, Mandelblit noted that the police had received a criminal complaint against the Likud over the issue, implying that the questions were just starting to be reviewed by law enforcement and that he would not have any position on that issue in the near future.
However, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has lambasted the accusations regarding a social media campaign repeatedly on Monday and Tuesday, presenting real people who own some of the Twitter accounts mentioned in Bergman’s article to bust the allegation that the accounts were bots.
Several accounts identified in Bergman’s article, including those who identified themselves as not being bots or political operatives and gave television and radio interviews, were suspended overnight Monday.
Acclaimed journalist Bergman reported on a network of hundreds of fake social media accounts advocating for Netanyahu, in an exposé in Yediot and the Times on Monday, but many of the examples given in the story have since spoken up as real, live people.
Netanyahu presented a man named Yoram, who goes by Captain George on Twitter, and whose account was called fake in the report.
Waving, Yoram said, “I’m not a bot. I wasn’t paid... Whatever I write comes from the heart. I see the injustice done to our prime minister and I react... I am a father to three children, six grandchildren and a seventh on the way, and that’s it. I stand behind every word I tweet.”
Netanyahu said, “Yoram says what he wants. No one is telling him what to do. It’s one big lie.”
The Bergman report said the fake account network echoed Likud messages and smeared Netanyahu’s political rivals. The content distributed by the network includes accusations of rape and cruel personal attacks on politicians, public figures and entire population groups, as well as Likud campaign ads, materials and posts by the prime minister’s son, Yair Netanyahu. The network includes accounts with real people behind them, who the report conjectures were paid to tweet.
Experts estimated that the network’s content was viewed by Israelis more than 2.5 million times.
Bergman’s report was based on a report which Netanyahu said was funded by political opponents.
Lahav Harkov contributed to this report.
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