Arab MK asks AG to collect cameras placed in Arab polling stations

Arab MK asks AG to collect cameras placed in Arab polling stations

Election chief had said cameras could be returned to Likud activists, but Aida Touma-Sliman says any delay in their collection pollutes vital evidence

A hidden camera allegedly snuck into a polling station in an Arab town by a Likud observer during parliamentary elections on April 9, 2019. (Courtesy Hadash-Ta'al)
A hidden camera allegedly snuck into a polling station in an Arab town by a Likud observer during parliamentary elections on April 9, 2019. (Courtesy Hadash-Ta'al)

Incoming Hadash-Ta’al MK Aida Touma-Sliman on Monday sent a letter to Attorney General Avichai Mandelblit, demanding he facilitate the collection by law enforcement agencies of cameras and any material recorded by Likud activists in Arab polling stations on election day last week.

Likud admitted that it was behind the scheme to place a reported 1,200 cameras in voting booths in Arab towns, which party officials said were designed to counter what they alleged were areas at high risk of voter fraud.

According to Touma-Sliman, Central Elections Committee head Justice Hanan Melcer issued a “problematic” directive on election day that the cameras be returned to the Likud activists, provided that they be handed over to the police if a complaint was filed.

Touma-Sliman said she believes any delay in the collection of the cameras and the material they recorded continues the privacy violation they posed and pollutes vital evidence.

Arab Joint List MK Aida Touma-Sliman in the Knesset, June 3, 2015. (Hadas Parush/Flash90)

“This is an unprecedented move by Netanyahu of direct and deliberate incitement, this time with deeds and not only with words,” she wrote.

Touma-Sliman wants the camera collection to take place in parallel with an investigation by Mandelblit into the Likud party and Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s involvement in their placement in the polling centers, saying they were an attempt to undermine “the legitimacy” of the Arab community’s citizenship.

On Thursday, Meretz MK Michal Rozin said she had sent an urgent letter to Mandelblit urging him to investigate Likud’s placement of cameras in Arab polling stations on election day.

“Likud tried to deter voters in the Arab community from exercising their democratic right, in a manner that could constitute a threat,” she wrote on Twitter.

Attorney General Avichai Mandelblit at a conference at Bar-Ilan University in Ramat Gan on March 28, 2019. (Flash90)

Adalah, an Israeli rights group, also sent a letter on Thursday to Mandelblit, State Prosecutor Shai Nitzan, and Police Northern District Commander Alon Asour, urging them “to open a criminal investigation into the [cameras] affair, due to suspicions of election interference and invasion of voter privacy.”

Kaizler Inbar, an Israeli public relations firm, said last week that it had worked closely with Likud to equip election observers at polling stations in Arab towns with cameras, and contended with pride that these were responsible for low Arab voter turnout.

Kaizler Inbar directly linked the campaign to the low voter turnout this election among Arab Israelis, bragging it was “the lowest that was seen in recent years!”

According to Hebrew-language media reports, some 1,200 concealed cameras were found at polling stations in Nazareth, Rahat, Sakhnin, Majd al-Krum, Taibe, Tamra and other towns with majority Arab populations. The reports said a handful of cameras were also discovered in ultra-Orthodox ballot stations.

Following the revelation of the cameras on Tuesday, Melcer said Israeli law only permits filming at polling stations during “extraordinary circumstances,” and ordered Likud to remove the equipment.

Fifty-two percent of eligible Arab Israelis cast ballots in Tuesday’s elections, Yousef Makladeh, an Arab Israeli statistician estimated. In the elections in 2013 and 2015, some 54% and 63.7%, of Arab Israelis, respectively, voted, according to estimates calculated after those elections.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu votes in Israel’s parliamentary elections in Jerusalem, on April 9, 2019. (Ariel Schalit/Pool/AFP)

Netanyahu drew condemnation last month from Arab Israelis and their allies for stating that “Israel is not a state of all its citizens. According to the nation-state law we passed, Israel is the nation-state of the Jewish people — and not anyone else.” He also courted controversy on election day in 2015 when he published a video urging right-wingers to vote because Arab Israelis were “flocking” to the polls.

Netanyahu defended the cameras in comments he made to reporters after casting his ballot in Jerusalem. “There should be cameras everywhere, not hidden ones,” he said.

Pressed as to why Likud believed it was necessary to conduct its own surveillance, the prime minister said it was to “ensure a fair vote.”

Likud lawyer Kobi Matza insisted to Kan that the portable cameras were not concealed, and therefore not illegal under Israeli election laws.

Adam Rasgon contributed to this report.

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