ACRI protests banning of some parties’ campaign ads

NGO comes to defense of both Balad and Strong Israel.

Eldad and Ben Ari introduce Strong Israel party 370 (photo credit: Marc Israel Sellem/ The Jerusalem Post)
Eldad and Ben Ari introduce Strong Israel party 370
(photo credit: Marc Israel Sellem/ The Jerusalem Post)
The Association for Civil Rights in Israel on Thursday announced that it has written to the chairman of the Central Elections Committee, Justice Elyakim Rubinstein to protest his ban of certain Strong Israel and Balad party election campaign broadcasts.
Strong Israel aired a broadcast with the slogan “not an Arab country, and not a country of infiltrators,” referring to its positions to marginalize the identity of the state’s non- Jewish inhabitants and to push for policies discouraging African migrants from staying in the country.
Balad broadcasted in one of its radio spots the words of the national anthem “Hatikva” to the melody of an Arabic pop song.
It was unclear exactly what Balad’s intent was in parodying “Hatikva.”
The juxtaposition of banning messages from parties on the opposite extremes of the spectrum was noteworthy, as well as ACRI’s protest for both sides.
ACRI more often than not fights for causes associated with more left-wing politics, although it is not formally associated with any party.
The organization said it will file a petition to the High Court of Justice in the coming days against Justice Rubinstein’s January 7 decision to prohibit the right-wing Strong Israel and Israeli-Arab Balad parties from including the above messages in their publicity campaigns.
According to ACRI, under Israeli elections law, during the two weeks preceding the elections, each of the political parties is given access to public radio and television airwaves at designated times to air their political message in a short broadcast.
Regarding the Strong Israel broadcast, the election committee announced that the words “not an Arab country, and not a country of infiltrators” must be struck from the radio broadcast.
Justice Rubinstein also said that he is considering disallowing the expressions “no rights without obligations,” and “without the fulfillment of these obligations, rights cannot be demanded.” The decision to disallow parts of the campaign broadcast was taken with the party’s agreement, but without a legal explanation, said ACRI.
Regarding the Balad broadcast which appeared to parody “Hatikva,” the spot was disqualified in full.
Justice Rubinstein noted that the radio spot presented the national anthem in a distorted and ridiculing manner, and stated that “contempt of the symbols of the state, the Jewish and democratic state, is not acceptable to me.”
While this was a more detailed explanation, it was still unclear to what extent the decision was a legal versus a values determination.
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Attorney Dan Yakir, ACRI chief legal counsel, said, “Freedom of expression includes the right to broadcast satire and provocative statements.”
He added, “This is especially important when it comes to election campaign broadcasts, which are intended to help citizens decide for whom to vote. The decision to disallow parts of the broadcasts was not founded on the tests for the limitation of freedom of expression established by the Supreme Court, and therefore has no legal basis.”
“While radio and television are no longer the exclusive channels for a political campaign’s public exposure (and it is safe to assume that the disqualifications will only increase the visibility of these messages), when a Supreme Court Justice harms the freedom of expression without valid justification, it creates a dangerous precedent,” said Yakir.
Last month Justice Rubinstein disqualified Strong Israel’s billboard campaign, a decision that ACRI also opposed.
Regarding the election commission’s disqualification of Balad MK Haneen Zoabi, eventually overturned by the High Court of Justice, Rubinstein had abstained.