The Likud was forced on Tuesday to cancel an in-person election conference, and the Central Elections Committee banned an episode of a TV comedy show featuring Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu in a campaign that has until now been relatively sleepy.
In lieu of in-person events, Netanyahu has given an unusually large number of interviews to the media in the weeks before the March 23 election. Since 2015, Netanyahu has generally waited until the last week before an election and before opening up with interviews. But this time, he has saturated the media early.
In contrast, much of the usual Likud campaign features – such as big conferences with Netanyahu speaking to supporters, billboards splashed around the country, aggressive social-media drives, parlor meetings with ministers, MKs and others – have not been used or are being used to a lesser degree this time.
A Likud campaign source said they had “deliberately decided to wait and have Netanyahu lead the country and not focus on campaigning, while everyone else gets tired out. Their people are exhausted, and our people are begging us to start.”
Likud was supposed to hold the “first-ever green passport political event,” referring to the certificates given to those who received two doses of the COVID-19 vaccine or recovered from coronavirus, with Netanyahu in Jerusalem on Tuesday. Likud mayors and chapter heads were invited.
However, the event was moved to Zoom less than a day after it was announced because political events are not listed in the laws governing how the green passport may be used.
At the request of several political parties, the Knesset Law, Constitution and Justice Committee is expected to vote on regulations for political events with vaccinated attendees. The regulations would allow the attendance of 300 people in a closed space, or 75% capacity, and 500 people outdoors. No food will be allowed at the political events, and people will have to sit at a distance from one another and wear masks.
Also Tuesday, the Central Elections Committee accepted a petition filed against Netanyahu, Likud and Channel 13 and banned the broadcast of a segment in the Stand-up Nation comedy show in which the prime minister was recorded earlier this week.
Reshet promoted the program on its Twitter account on Monday under the caption: “For the first time in Israel, a prime minister comes to do stand-up.”
Likud petitioned the High Court of Justice against the decision, with the party saying: “Many politicians appear on entertainment programs like [talk show] Ofira and Berkovic and [sketch comedy show] Eretz Nehederet. The Central Elections Committee chose to specifically censor the Likud.”
The committee determined that the segment featuring Netanyahu, which was due to be aired on Tuesday night, was considered election propaganda; therefore, the nine minutes in which Netanyahu was supposed to appear should not be broadcast, The Jerusalem Post’s sister publication Maariv reported.
In the decision, the committee’s chairman, Justice Uzi Vogelman, said although the section in question was designated as entertainment, throughout it “messages are intertwined that are on the political agenda,” and they could influence voters.
In addition, Vogelman said the prime minister’s participation in the program, “close to the election date and in light of the fact that the network knew they could not bring other political candidates due to the schedule, could create the impression that it was election propaganda.”
Finally, he ruled that although the segment was banned for broadcast during the lead-up to the election, after March 23, there would be no impediment to its broadcast.
Some of the jokes planned for the program were published in the decision on Tuesday.
For example, after the program’s cohost Shalom Assayag asked the prime minister, “Are you also waiting for the opening of Ben-Gurion Airport like us?” Netanyahu responds: “Of course. Once I would stand in front of the United Nations for the state; now I need to show up on Stand-up Nation.”
At the beginning of the program, Netanyahu congratulated fellow cohost Lital Schwartz. When Assayag remarked that he is also a host of the show, Netanyahu teased Defense Minister and Alternate Prime Minister Benny Gantz and said: “I mean, you have an alternate host and a host. In my experience, it does not work so well.”
Immediately afterward, the prime minister asked to “say something serious” and addressed the people of the cultural world.
“I know you’ve had a very difficult year,” he said. “Everything is being done to bring the halls back to full occupancy for the simple reason that anything is better than me trying to make you laugh.”
The prime minister also referred to the normalization agreements with Arab countries that he signed in the past year.
“People are wondering about the concessions we made for peace with the Emirates. I must share with you, the rumors are true. The agreement had a secret clause in which we pledged to give them Omer Adam every second Saturday,” Netanyahu joked, referring to one of Israel’s most popular singers, who spent much of the last few months in Dubai.
Yair Netanyahu, the prime minister’s son, wrote on his Twitter account: “It is simply unbelievable that the chairman of the [Central] Election Committee, Justice Vogelman, whom no one elected, decided on his own initiative and without any authority, to ban the broadcast of Netanyahu’s stand-up program with Shalom Assayag on television, because it was ‘election propaganda.’ Of course, he does not ban brainwashing and election propaganda for the left.”
Also Tuesday, the Likud campaign announced its messaging for the final three weeks before the election: “It’s Netanyahu or Lapid.”
The slogan pits Netanyahu against Yesh Atid leader Yair Lapid. In a video released by the campaign, Netanyahu said: “Lapid is hiding behind other politicians who are in turn hiding the fact that Lapid will be prime minister in a government with them. But there is one thing that can’t be hidden: If you vote for other parties, Lapid will be prime minister.”