MKs Aryeh Eldad and Michael Ben-Ari
MKs Aryeh Eldad and Michael Ben-AriFlash 90

Wednesday's decision by Judge Elyakim Rubinstein of the Central Election Committee to disqualify a planned ad campaign by the right wing party Otzma LeYisrael on the grounds that it was racist has spurred a debate in Israel on the freedoms of political expression and the fine line between what is legal and what is incitement. 

The petition, filed by the left wing party Meretz and several activists claimed the slogan "Loyalty – No Duties, No Rights" constituted a smear campaign against the Israeli-Arab population and was therefore racist. 

In his ruling, Rubinstein wrote that, "The campaign aims to present the Arab sector as disloyal to the State of Israel… It is the defamation of the entire Arab sector."

However, Dan Yakir, the legal advisor of the The Association for Civil Rights in Israel, while agreeing that the slogan might have been distasteful, holds that the election committee does not and should not have the authority to dictate a party's campaign ads unless there is a clear incitement to violence. "The campaign of Otzma LeYisrael is obscene, and its clear purpose is to delegitimize the Arab public," said Yakir.

"However, the decision to reject the ad campaign raises objections," he added, saying that Rubinstein's decision, "was given with a lack of authority, since the law does not authorize the Chairman of the Election Committee to intervene in the content of billboards. This is problematic mainly because this is not the way to deal with incitement to racism. Political statements deserve wider constitutional protection - during elections in particular. Therefore it is appropriate to disqualify only expressions that lead to a near certain incitement to racism, and this is not the case. "

"A firm rejection like this is not the solution," said Yakir. "What is needed is a determined struggle - the kind we do not see today - against racism, primarily on the part of public officials."

Otzma LeYisrael holds that the election committee should not have the authority to rule on billboards or bus ads.

"This is a legitimate campaign and we intend to appeal this outrageous decision, which infringes in the freedom of speech," read on official statement released by the party, lead by MKs Aryeh Eldad and Michael Ben-Ari.