Central Elections Committee rules Likud is not operating bot network

Ex-V15 group “Darkenu” ordered to register with State Comptroller as active in election.

Darkenu activists   (photo credit: SOCIAL MEDIA)
Darkenu activists
(photo credit: SOCIAL MEDIA)
Central Elections Committee chairman Judge Hanan Melcer rejected Blue and White’s petition against the Likud, claiming that the latter is operating a secret social media propaganda network.
The petition was based on a report in Yediot Aharonot and The New York Times last week. Soon after its publication, the people behind most of the Twitter accounts named as created specially to promote the Likud came forward to say they were genuine users of the network not officially connected to any political party.
Melcer ruled on Friday that there is not enough proof indicating that the accounts are following instructions from the Likud.
“The right to private political expression, including anonymously, is promised to all, even during elections, as long as it is not organized or funded, directly or indirectly, by an election candidate,” Melcer explained. “During an election, the Internet in general and social media specifically are used like the new town square and a platform to exchange ideas, send messages, express opinions and convince people, whether under the individual’s name or anonymously.
“Limiting personal political expression on social media must be done sparingly and according to the laws and its purposes,” he added.
Still, Melcer warned that any messages coordinated with parties in any way must be labeled, and not doing so could be considered criminal.
Also Friday, Melcer ordered the organization Darkenu to register with the State Comptroller under what has been nicknamed the “V15 Law.”
Darkenu – which has been campaigning for voters to choose parties that are not extremist and that unite Israelis – was known as V15 in the 2015 election, in which it campaigned against the Likud and for a two-state solution.
If Darkenu does not register as an active body in the election by Sunday, it must halt all activities until after the elections, Melcer ruled.
Likud had petitioned against Darkenu, saying it violated the V15 Law the party ushered through the Knesset. The party argued that Darkenu hopes to help the Blue and White Party, is worth millions of shekels and manages a database of hundreds of thousands of voters.
During the 2015 election, V15 was accused of being a form of foreign intervention, in part because one of the organizations backing V15, One Voice, had received support from the US State Department under then-president Barack Obama and because Obama’s 2012 national field director Jeremy Bird was a consultant for V15. The organization denied any connection to the Obama administration.
The V15 Law inspired by the group limits fund-raising by non-party political organizations in an election year. Such groups would have to register as an “active elections body.” Likud MK Yoav Kisch, who proposed the bill, said it is meant to prevent American-style Super-PACs from influencing elections in Israel.