The head of Central Elections Committee, Supreme Court Justice Salim Joubran, ruled Monday that Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's March 3 speech to Congress will be subject to a five-minute delay in its Israel broadcast, in order to prevent the broadcast of any election propaganda.
In his ruling, Jubran wrote that during that five-minute delay, editors and broadcasters must ensure that the words of the prime minister do not slip into election propaganda, and any parts of the speech that do so should not be aired.
"We cannot ignore the fact that the prime minister has been given a central stage just two weeks before the election," he noted.
But, the judge stressed, "I do not mean that there is a high probability that the prime minister will engage in propaganda during his speech, but if the prime minister does do so, (then) there is great potential to impact on the voters and … harm the balance between the candidates, thereby giving the prime minister an unfair advantage in the upcoming election."
The speech has been the subject of immense controversy both in Israel and the US, on two separate issues - the timing and the breach of protocol in the United States.
In Israel, Netanyahu came under fire from critics who said that the address, set to focus on an internationally brokered nuclear agreement with Iran, is a clear effort by the prime minister to present himself as a statesman on the global stage just two weeks before the country goes to the polls.
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Furthermore, the planned speech was also heavily criticized both at home and in the US as it had been issued by the Republican speaker of the House, John Boehner, without informing the White House. In fact, it appears that there was a level of collusion between the Republicans and the Prime Minister's Office to keep the White House in the dark.
Israeli Ambassador to the US Ron Dermer, a Netanyahu ally and former Republican operative, met with Secretary of State John Kerry in the time between the invitation was issued and the news of it broke, and refrained from mentioning the plan for the prime minister to address Congress.
The White House was reportedly furious over the slight, a departure from American political protocol that drew fire from even the staunchest pro-Republican sources. Political analysts have warned that the move would have a direct impact on already shaky relations between Netanyahu and US President Barack Obama, who has another two years before the end of his term.
Meanwhile, Israel's Channel 2 television reported Sunday that the US administration has stopped updating Israel about developments in nuclear negotiations with Iran, allegedly in response to Netanyahu's decision to accept the invitation to address Congress on the issue.
According to the report, US Undersecretary of State Wendy Sherman, who is involved in the talks, has announced she will no longer be updating Israelis about the negotiations. Obama's National Security Advisor Susan Rice has also reportedly announced she is cutting ties with her Israeli counterpart, Yossi Cohen.
Netanyahu has repeatedly expressed his opposition to the terms of the agreement being drafted between the world powers and Iran, calling it a "bad deal". Instead, he has echoed the call of the Republicans for tighter sanctions on Iran even before the deadline for the deal expires, something which the White House argues could cause the talks to collapse altogether.