Two recent hoaxes about coronavirus contagions in Israel have led to warnings that Likud will attempt to used corona hoaxes as a tactic of voter suppression during Israel’s election tomorrow. Benjamin Gantz, leader of the main opposition party Blue White, denounced today a corona hoax as a Likud dirty trick, an attempt “by Netanyahu to prevent you from going out and voting.”
There have been two corona hoaxes so far: one last week in Mevaseret Zion outside Jerusalem, and one today, in Givataiym, a city east of Tel Aviv. Both towns are considered to be Blue White strongholds. Both rumors were denied as hoaxes within hours by the Ministry of Health, but during election day, a delay of hours can lead to massive vote suppression. Another hoax was reported in the Palestinian region of the Triangle: an ad, supposedly put out by the Ministry of Health, calling upon citizens to avoid leaving their homes without plague masks. The Ministry of Health has issued no such recommendation.
HaBloc HaDemocrati (The Democratic Bloc), a left-wing NGO, warned that Likud will attempt voter suppression tactics involving corona tomorrow. It predicts we will see more corona hoaxes and that Likud poll watchers– every party is allowed to send some– showing up at polls in plague masks, for instance.
So far, the corona hoaxes have been spread by fake or anonymous accounts on social media, particularly on Whatsapp (which is ubiquitous in Israel). Likud has used Whatsapp and other social media accounts, sometimes fake and sometimes official, to spread disinformation during previous campaigns. In the September 2019 elections, for instance, the Election Overseeing Committee ordered Facebook to block Netanyahu’s page on election day, as it was spreading illegal propaganda. The infamous Netanyahu 2015 message of “the Arabs are coming out in droves” was sent out to voters by SMS.
Concerns have also been raised about a spyware used by Likud, called Elector, which – aside from leaking the entire electoral rolls, twice – will be used by Likud in real time to monitor which Likud supporters or their friends have gone to the polls or stayed at home (collecting this information is generally illegal in Israel). The white hat hackers who exposed the holes in Elector concluded that no other party has any tool remotely as powerful as Elector.
As always, voter suppression efforts by the right-wing are likely to concentrate on Israeli Palestinians towns – particularly as polls show the Joint List is likely to emerge stronger from the elections.