Wed Jan 23rd, 2019 at 09:41:07 PM EST
Central Elections Committee set to scold Likud on digital manipulation | JPost |
The chairman of the Central Elections Committee, Supreme Court Justice Hanan Melcer, is expected to announce Thursday that he will force the Likud to sign a covenant promising to refrain from digital manipulation in the April 9 election, The Jerusalem Post has learned.
Until now, every major party running - except Likud- has signed the covenant, which was drafted by Hebrew University lecturer Dr. Tehilla Shwartz Altshuler, the head of the Media Reform Program at the Israel Democracy Institute.
She wrote the covenant in lieu of legislation, because Israel's Election Propaganda Law was passed in 1959, and because it has only been updated once since then to include television, makes no reference to the Internet. Efforts to update the law before the election failed after they were blocked by the Likud.
"I wrote the covenant so there would be rules for the Wild West despite the lack of legislation," she said. "We went to [the] parties to sign it, but the Likud didn't want to hear about it."
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Melcer asked the Likud to sign it and, after the party refused, announced 10 days ago that he would announce a decision within a week and a half on whether to impose the covenant on all the parties.
On Wednesday night, a Likud spokesman said that Melcer had no authority to impose the covenant and that the law must be updated by the Knesset to reflect changing realities. The spokesman said the Likud would not engage in digital manipulation, such as the use of "bots" and other sophisticated social networking, to impact the election results.
Shin Bet (Israel Security Agency) chief Nadav Argaman caused a storm two weeks ago, when he warned that foreign countries were interfering in the election. Shwartz Altshuler confirmed that this was taking place, but said most of the election interference taking place by digital means was being done by Israeli parties, not foreign countries.
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No time like the present to update Israel's election laws
In November 2017, former Israeli Supreme Court judge Dorit Beinisch released a report detailing her findings during a two-and-a-half-year examination of Israel's Election Law. Beinisch, the first woman to serve as president of Israel's top court, had been appointed to head the investigation by President Reuven Rivlin and Salim Joubran, another ex-Supreme Court judge, in the summer of 2015. At the time, Joubran, who heads Israel's Central Elections Committee, described the Election Law, drafted back in 1959, and with few amendments since, as "outdated" and "archaic" because it did not address "today's most popular media tool, in general, and even more so during an election campaign - the Internet." Beinisch agreed, arguing that the Central Election Committee needed modern legal tools to address online meddling, and that election propaganda laws should be extended to the Internet.
These were not strictly theoretical concerns. To get a sense of what online election interference looks like in Israel, you only have to go back a few months to municipal elections held in October 2018. Just days before that vote, as the Times of Israel reported, Israel's cyber agency, the National Cyber Directorate, asked Facebook to remove thousands of fake profiles spreading false information about candidates.
According to the directorate's Erez Tidhar, Israel also requested Facebook delete "a lot of avatars (profiles on social media) created to try to change public opinion and to manipulate information." Those revelations followed various media reports earlier in 2018 investigating the role of online trolls in Israeli politics, as well as the proliferation of fake social media accounts - in the hundreds of thousands - controlled by political parties and municipalities.
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"The most important thing is the identity of the judges," she said. "I advanced people whose world outlook is more conservative... Most the country's citizens can see that for the first time there is an effective justice minister who implements the right-wing policies."