Netanyahu soldiers on with IDF photo-ops despite ban

The Elections Committee legal advisor forbade Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu from using pictures of himself with members of the IDF in his election propaganda campaign.

Prime Minister and Defense Minister Benjamin Netanyahu in a lone soldier event in Tel Aviv on January 24, 2019 (photo credit: MARC ISRAEL SELLEM/THE JERUSALEM POST)
Prime Minister and Defense Minister Benjamin Netanyahu in a lone soldier event in Tel Aviv on January 24, 2019
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu continued taking photos with IDF soldiers this week, despite the attorney-general’s ruling that doing so during an election campaign is illegal.

The Labor Party petitioned the Central Elections Committee to get Netanyahu “to stop using the IDF and IDF soldiers in his election campaign, against the Elections Law.” Election campaign laws in effect since 1959 prohibit using IDF facilities and soldiers as part of an election campaign. Netanyahu, however, has argued that the photos are being taken as he performs his duties as defense minister.

The Central Elections Committee said on Wednesday that it would make a decision on Sunday. In the meantime, it released an injunction against candidates publishing any photos with soldiers.

Last week, Attorney-General Avichai Mandelblit said no candidates may publish any photos with soldiers ahead of the elections, and that they may not discuss politics while on IDF bases. He made no distinction between posting the photos on political sites, like Likud’s election campaign site, and government sites, like the Prime Minister’s Office website. However, the attorney-general added, there could be exceptions, such as cases meant to “deter the enemy,” emergencies, or events with clear news value.

Yet, as of Wednesday, the photo at the top of Netanyahu’s Facebook and Twitter pages were with soldiers.

Netanyahu released a video from a visit to a naval base in Haifa on Tuesday in which he said, “I would like to take you onto the base with me, but there’s a strange instruction – we cannot take photos with soldiers.”

The prime minister pointed out that he used to be a soldier and a commander in the IDF, “So maybe we can’t take photos of me, either.”

Netanyahu said he plans to take photos with soldiers despite Mandelblit’s instructions, and will publicize them after the elections for his social media followers around the world to see.

“You are the beautiful and true faces of the State of Israel and the IDF,” he stated.

Despite saying that he will wait to release the photos, the Prime Minister’s Office distributed pictures from his visit to the naval base. Netanyahu posted a photo and a video of himself on the base, but without soldiers, on Twitter.

The last time Labor released a photo of Avi Gabbay with soldiers was on December 13, before the start of the 90-day official election campaign period. However, the party posted graphics wishing luck to the departing and new IDF chiefs of staff on its social media pages, along with the party logo, during the election period.

Ahead of the 2013 election, Bayit Yehudi used photos of lone soldiers in its campaign for the Knesset, and the Central Elections Committee fined the party NIS 4,000 following a petition by then-Peace Now secretary-general and current Meretz candidate Yariv Oppenheimer.