As MKs debate camera bill, Arab lawmaker booted for filming Netanyahu
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As MKs debate camera bill, Arab lawmaker booted for filming Netanyahu

Likud presses ahead with doomed gambit to bring cameras into polling stations, six days before elections and despite widespread criticism from top legal officials

Joint List party leader Ayman Odeh filming Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu during a discussion on the cameras bill at the Knesset, in Jerusalem on September 11, 2019 (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)
Joint List party leader Ayman Odeh filming Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu during a discussion on the cameras bill at the Knesset, in Jerusalem on September 11, 2019 (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

The Knesset’s top Arab lawmaker confronted Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu with a cellphone camera in parliament on Wednesday, interrupting a debate on a bill that seeks to allow party representatives to bring cameras into polling stations in next’s week election.

Ayman Odeh was removed from the hall after appearing to film the prime minister and calling him a “liar.” Photographs of the incident suggested the camera was not on.

Six days before the national elections, lawmakers were set to vote in the Knesset later Wednesday on the Likud-led camera bill. It is all but certain to be defeated.

The so-called camera bill failed to gain majority support in the Knesset Regulatory Committee Monday when MKs voted 12-12 on a motion to fast-track the measure so that the bill would not have to wait the usual 48 hours before a Knesset vote. The tie came about after Yisrael Beytenu pulled support for the bill, foretelling its almost certain doom in the full Knesset.

Joint List party leader Ayman Odeh filming Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu during a discussion on the cameras bill, at the Knesset, in Jerusalem on September 11, 2019. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

Netanyahu nonetheless said in a Tuesday statement that he planned to bring the bill to the Knesset floor “to find out who supports voter fraud and who opposes it.”

The bill would allow representatives of Likud and other parties to bring cameras into polling stations. It has faced staunch opposition from the attorney general, the Central Elections Committee, and the Knesset’s legal adviser, as well as critics who say such a move would lead to voter suppression.

Netanyahu’s cabinet on Sunday unanimously approved the legislation, with the prime minister insisting the bill was only intended to prevent voter fraud, which Likud claims is rampant in some Arab-majority areas.

On Sunday the Knesset’s legal adviser, Eyal Yinon, called the bill unconstitutional. He argued in his legal opinion presented to lawmakers that it would provide an unfair advantage to the Likud party, which already has in its possession over 1,000 body cameras that it used to surveil polling stations in Arab towns during the April 9 election.

During that vote, Likud equipped some 1,200 polling officials working at ballot stations in Arab population centers with hidden body cameras to prevent what the party claimed was unchecked fraud in the community. The Central Elections Committee has since banned their use.

Even if it were to pass in the Knesset, analysts say it is unlikely the bill could be implemented in time for the September 17 vote, since the government would find it difficult to defend it in court given the opposition from Attorney General Avichai Mandelblit and the Knesset elections panel.

Criticizing the legislative effort as “aberrant and flawed,” Mandelblit last week warned ministers the bill would undermine “the exercise of the fundamental right to vote and also the implementation of the legal obligation to conduct free, secret and equal elections.”

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)

Speaking to reporters at the Knesset ahead of a faction meeting Monday, Yisrael Beytenu chair Avigdor Liberman said, “What Netanyahu is trying to pass is not a voter observer bill; it is an election-stealing bill.”

He said his right-wing party supported placing cameras at polling stations to prevent voter fraud, but not in the hands of poll observers who represent individual parties.

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