A veteran former lawmaker for the ruling Likud party on Monday slammed the government and Likud for trying to hastily push through a law allowing representatives of political parties to film voters at polling stations, saying ministers know what they are doing is “illegal” because the attorney general has already told them so.
Benny Begin, who served as a Likud lawmaker in the Knesset for 18 years, told Army Radio he will not vote for his former party in the September 17 elections because of its behavior.
Begin’s remarks came a day after the cabinet unanimously approved the so-called Camera Bill in an effort to see it passed into law by the Knesset before next week’s national vote, despite strong opposition from Attorney General Avichai Mandelblit, the Central Elections Committee and the Knesset’s legal adviser.
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu insists the legislation is only intended to prevent voter fraud, but critics say it’s an attempt to intimidate Arab voters ahead of the September 17 poll.
Begin, who didn’t run for reelection in the previous elections in April, told the station that by rejecting Mandelblit’s opinion, ministers are saying “we know that we are about to do something illegal by force, using the majority we have in the Knesset.”
“Traditionally, the attorney general is the one who outlines the constitutional tradition,” Begin said. “The government is subject to his constitutional advice. To disregard the attorney general’s advice is a grave phenomenon.”
Noting the breadth of legal opinions against the bill, Begin said of its approval by the cabinet that “there is no escaping the conclusion that it constituted blatant and gross disregard for the officers in charge of good governance.”
It “expresses a haughty and dangerous approach,” he said, and comes with a price. Begin declared that he will not vote for Likud, the party his father, former prime minister Menachem Begin, founded and first led to power in 1977, and for which he himself in the past served as a cabinet minister.
“I won’t vote for Likud in the coming elections,” Begin said. “It is impossible.”
Begin, who has recently been openly critical of Likud policies, declined to say which party he will cast his ballot for.
Likud MK David Bitan, a close ally of Netanyahu, responded to Begin’s remarks, saying the former lawmaker only votes for Likud when he is on the party slate. “We are used to it; everything is okay; it is a fact,” he said.
MK Miki Zohar, another Netanyahu ally who is set to chair a special Knesset committee Monday that will prepare the bill for readings before parliament, told the Kan broadcaster that in recent years Begin has “changed his position in everything regarding Likud.”
Blue and White Party leader MK Benny Gantz, who is the most serious challenger to Netanyahu in the September election, told Army Radio he believes Begin will vote for him.
Criticizing the legislative effort as “aberrant and flawed,” Mandelblit last week warned ministers the Camera 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.”
On Sunday the Knesset’s legal adviser joined Mandelblit in opposing the bill, calling it “unconstitutional.”
Eyal Yinon argued in his legal opinion presented to lawmakers that the Camera Bill 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 election.
During the April 9 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 claims was rampant fraud that has occurred in the community.
Critics charged that Likud’s efforts were a form of voter intimidation designed to keep the non-Jewish minority from the polls, a claim seemingly corroborated by the company contracted by Likud to carry out the operation.
The Knesset is likely to advance the legislation later this week, but the bill still faces significant legal hurdles. The Central Elections Committee last month banned filming by party representatives in polling stations, and announced its own pilot program that would see some 3,000 non-party-affiliated individuals, among them lawyers and accountants, touring polling stations at random during the September 17 vote.
Netanyahu and Likud MKs have gone on the offensive against the positions voiced by Mandelblit and Hanan Melcer, the Central Elections Committee chairman.
The April election did not produce a ruling majority coalition so Netanyahu dissolved parliament and called fresh elections for September. While the ultimately failed coalition negotiations were still underway Begin criticized Netanyahu’s apparent attempts to secure for himself Knesset-ordered immunity from prosecution in the three graft cases against him.
The 76-year-old Begin, who left the Knesset on April 30 after serving as a Likud lawmaker for 18 of the last 30 years, in March launched a scathing attack on the premier for “attempting to assassinate the public’s trust in law enforcement institutions” with his attacks on Mandelblit, who has announced charges against Netanyahu, pending a hearing.