High Court accepts ACRI petition against censorship of election ads

Screen shot of the Balad campaign adExcerpt from Balad campaign ad (YouTube screenshot)

In a unanimous ruling published Tuesday (January 15, 2012), an extended panel of five High Court justices accepted petitions against the censorship of election campaign ads by the Otzma Leyisrael and Balad parties. The court also suggested that the time had come to reexamine the law on election broadcasts in light of the use of the internet and social media by parties.



The ruling reverses the decision of Central Elections Committee Chairman Justice Elyakim Rubinstein, and clears all aspects of the parties’ campaigns for public broadcast.


The Association for Civil Rights in Israel filed a petition against the disqualification of both ads, and Otzma Leyisrael and Balad filed individual petitions against the ban on their own, particular ads. The hearing was held Monday at the Supreme Court in Jerusalem in front of Supreme Court President Asher Grunis, Justice Miriam Naor, Justice Salim Joubran, Justice Esther Hayut and Justice Edna Arbel. ACRI Attorneys Sharona Eliyahu-Chai and Dan Yakir noted in the petition that freedom of expression is a fundamental right, and it is especially important in election campaigns to allow voters to get information from candidates so that they can make the most informed choice.


Justice Grunis stated in the ruling that “in both cases – which are very different from each other – it is difficult to say that they met the stringent tests that must be applied to justify restricting freedom of expression of the party lists; or that the degree of offensiveness to the public as a result of watching these ads is beyond the ‘level of appropriate tolerance’.”


On the issue of the Balad ad, in which the national anthem “Hatkiva” was played to the tune of a hit Arabic song, the court ruled that “watching the ad for anyone who holds the state’s symbols dear to their heart, is not easy. But that is not to say that the offense caused by it is so great that it justifies disqualification of the campaign.” The Justices reached a similar conclusion on the Otzma Leyisrael ad which contains “racist characteristics and applies generalizations to an entire population group.”


The ruling concludes by noting the immense changes that have taken place in the media in recent years. “The party political broadcasts on radio and television, which in the past were the central means for the party lists’ to transfer information to voters, are today just part of the communications between the electorate and the elected. Other means of communication, including the internet, social media, foreign media and the websites of the parties themselves, play a growing part in the array of sources of information to which the public is exposed.”


The justices added that “in this situation where the parties can transfer information to the public – both directly and indirectly – in a manner which the law could not foresee, it is worth examining the need to adjust the laws to the changing reality.”


Related Materials

For more information on ACRI’s petition, click here.

For the full ruling (Hebrew), click here.

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Categories: Democracy and Civil Liberties, Freedom of Expression

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