A supporter of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu holding a sign in a Likud party Passover event .
(photo credit: AVSHALOM SASSONI)
The Likud refused to support an amendment to election campaign laws or to sign a pledge to increase transparency in political ads online, in an official response sent on Tuesday to a proposal by Central Elections Committee chairman Justice Hanan Melcer.
Likud Attorney Avi Halevy pointed out that Internet use was widespread in the last election, arguing that there was no need to pass laws or sign pledges.
“There’s no reason to behave differently in this election, such that will violate the foundations of our government system,” he wrote. “Our stance, backed by the attorney-general, is that when there are concrete cases brought before the honorable chairman of the Central Elections Committee, each case should be examined individually and carefully… as committee chairmen have done in the past.”
The response came after Shahar Ben-Meir, an attorney who has been known to petition courts on matters relating to the media, asked Melcer to order an injunction to all parties running in the Knesset to stop running any ads that do not say who paid for them. These ads would include text messages, responses on social media, and even “likes” on social media posts.
In a hearing on the matter on Sunday, Melcer suggested that the Knesset reconvene to quickly pass a law on the matter. There is a related bill which passed a preliminary reading and was discussed in the Knesset Law, Constitution and Justice Committee. Alternatively, parties could pledge to be transparent in their online activities. Melcer asked all parties running to respond to the proposals by Tuesday.
“In light of the concerns about foreign intervention, the subject of anonymous materials carries a different weight,” Melcer said, referring to a warning from Shin Bet (Israel Security Agency) chief Nadav Argaman of foreign intervention in the election via the Internet.
Halevy wrote: “We believe the Means of Election Propaganda Law needs to be amended to suit changing realities, if the authority to do so is given to the Knesset and only to [the Knesset], which is the authorized legislative branch.”
The Likud lawyer also pointed out that violating election campaign laws is a criminal offense, which therefore needs to undergo the extensive review of a full legislative process.
“The digital world is complicated, and we must thoroughly examine all legislation relating to limiting and regulating its use,” Halevy stated. “This will not be possible before the upcoming Knesset election.”
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu recently took a similar stance against regulating Internet use when he came out against a bill by Likud MK Miki Zohar to create an automatic filter to block pornography in Israel, which users may opt out of.
Yesh Atid took the Likud’s response as an admission of guilt.
“When you have nothing to sell, all you have left is to lie,” the party’s spokesman said. “The Likud admits that they’re spreading lies and fake news. Otherwise, they would have no reason to oppose a law that requires transparency and identification behind propaganda on the Internet.”
On Sunday, Kulanu faction chairman Roy Folkman expressed concern about “anonymous activity on the Internet” in recent weeks and said the party supports a bill to regulate the matter and “prevent a reality in which there are campaigns that no one knows who is activating them.”
“In recent months, I had many meetings with officials from Google and Facebook who say there are many forces outside of Israel that are involved behind the scenes of Israeli politics that – together with Israeli political factors – fund propaganda and campaigns and use fictitious usernames to spread unverified information,” Folkman warned.
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