Balad MKs (front), Otzma Leyisarel (back)
Balad MKs (front), Otzma Leyisarel (back)Flash 90

The Association for Civil Rights in Israel (ACRI) has filed an appeal to the Supreme Court over the Elections Committee’s censorship of elections ads. The parties censored thus far are the right-wing Otzma Leyisrael faction and the Arab party Balad.

Balad and Otzma Leyisrael are far from friendly. The two parties, on opposite ends of the political spectrum, have each unsuccessfully tried to have the other barred from Knesset in recent weeks.

Otzma Leyisrael argues that Balad wishes to undermine Israel as a Jewish state, while Balad has accused Otzma Leyisrael of racism against Arabs.

Nevertheless, the two now share a common interest as ACRI seeks to overturn a decision by Justice Elyakim Rubeinstein and get their ads back on air. Otzma Leyisrael’s ad was censored for implying that Arabs are more likely than others to not pay taxes, while Balad’s was banned for allegedly disrespecting the national anthem.

According to ACRI, “The freedom of expression is also the public’s right to information, to be exposed to the platforms and positions of the lists running in elections.” By preventing parties from airing their uncensored views, the Elections Committee is preventing voters from receiving relevant information, the group’s attorneys argued.

Regarding the Otzma Leyisrael ad in particular, ACRI argued that even racist speech is protected under free speech laws unless it is likely to cause harm or serious offense. The ad in question is not likely to create “offense beyond the tolerance needed in a democratic society,” the group’s attorneys said.

Regarding Balad’s ad, the group argued that parody is also protected speech, and that in any case, “In this case, the satire is not targeting the anthem itself, but the politicians who make use of it.”

“The elections ads on radio and television have not been the only venue for exposure to ads for some time,” Attorney Dan Yakir noted, “and there is reason to believe that the ban will just increase their exposure.” However, he concluded, “When a Supreme Court Justice deals an unjustified blow to freedom of expression, that’s a dangerous precedent.”