Cabinet to vote on Likud-backed Camera Bill allowing filming in polling stations

Cabinet to vote on Likud-backed Camera Bill allowing filming in polling stations

Netanyahu to try to push through legislation despite fierce opposition, including by AG who warned it could play havoc with voting process

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu leads the weekly cabinet meeting, at the Prime Minister's office in Jerusalem, on June 30, 2019. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu leads the weekly cabinet meeting, at the Prime Minister's office in Jerusalem, on June 30, 2019. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

The Israeli cabinet is set to vote on Sunday on a controversial bill that would allow observers from political parties to bring cameras into polling stations. The so-called Camera Bill is backed by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and his ruling Likud party, and has drawn fierce criticism from opposition politicians who have accused the party of trying to rush through the legislation ahead of the September 17 vote.

The legislation is also opposed by the Central Elections Committee and Attorney General Avichai Mandelblit, who warned in a legal opinion Friday that it could play havoc with the voting process. The move, Mandelblit said, was “aberrant and flawed” and would undermine the entire vote.

The vote is set to go ahead on Sunday despite the objections, Channel 12 news reported. In a rare move, Mandelblit is expected to attend the weekly cabinet meeting ahead of the vote to warn against the legislation.

Should it pass the cabinet vote, the bill will be brought to the Knesset.

The legislation was advanced after the election committee late last month banned political parties from arming polling station representatives with cameras, saying the law did not enable such practices.

But passage of the bill, in time to enact on September 17, is viewed as unlikely by commentators. And even if it passes, the government will likely find it difficult to defend a law that the attorney general vehemently opposes if and when petitions are filed against it at the High Court of Justice.

During the April 9 elections, Netanyahu’s Likud party equipped some 1,200 polling officials working at ballot stations in Arab population centers with hidden body cameras to prevent what the party claims is rampant fraud in the community.

Likud asserted this week that without fraudulent votes, one of the country’s Arab parties, Ra’am-Balad, would not have passed the minimum threshold of 3.25 percent of the vote for entry into the Knesset, equivalent to four seats in parliament. It is now warning the same will happen again if cameras at polling stations are not permitted.

The party’s claims are dubious and have not been substantiated by evidence. A senior Likud official speaking to the Haaretz newspaper anonymously said the claims of a stolen election were “merely speculation. This isn’t a scenario anyone thinks has much basis.”

On Friday, Netanyahu accused his political rivals of opposing the bill because they “want to steal the election.”

Speaking to reporters before departing from London to Israel, the premier said: “It is not a coincidence that Benny Gantz and [Blue and White’s Yair] Lapid oppose cameras, because they want the election to be stolen.”

Meanwhile, Supreme Court Justice Hanan Melcer, who heads the election committee, backed Mandelblit and said the passage of the law just before election day would not leave sufficient time to explain to voters the changes or to properly prepare election officials.

On Saturday, former prime minister Ehud Barak, who is running in the upcoming elections with the left-wing Democratic Camp alliance, suggested Netanyahu could be seeking a scrap with Mandelblit as a pretext to firing him.

Mandelblit has recommended Netanyahu be charged with fraud and breach of trust in three separate corruption cases, as well as bribery in one of them. Lawyers for the premier, who denies any wrongdoing, are set to attend a pre-indictment hearing with Mandelblit on October 2-3, just weeks after the election.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, left, and Attorney General Avichai Mandelblit, in a composite photo. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

“The Camera Bill is a warning sign to all of us. Whether it is an effort to scare voters, whether it is to create a kernel [of ostensible evidence] to the claim that the elections were fraudulent in order to cast doubt on their legitimacy and not recognize their results, or whether it is preparing the basis for the firing of the attorney general, the danger is chaos and anarchy after the elections,” Barak wrote on Facebook, summarizing remarks he made at a cultural event in Holon.

Barak called on Israelis to be prepared to stop this “destructive” bill, “whose meaning is the end of democracy.”

Gabi Ashkenazi, one of the leaders of the Blue and White political alliance, speaks during a press conference in Tel Aviv on March 18, 2019. (Tomer Neuberg/Flash90)

Also speaking at the event, Blue and White MK Gabi Ashkenazi claimed he has heard of efforts by unspecified parties to enlist female election observers to check under the veils of Muslim women.

“This is incomprehensible,” he said.

Ashkenazi alleged the proposed Camera Bill was an effort to distract from the graft accusations against Netanyahu and said that the premier was remaking a controversial get-out-the-vote appeal he made on election day in 2015.

“Do you remember [Netanyahu’s claim that] the Arabs are flocking [to the polls]? Now it’s the Arabs are stealing the elections,” Ashkenazi said.

Yisrael Beytenu party chief Avigdor Liberman also weighed in on the Camera Bill, echoing Ashkenazi by likening it to Netanyahu’s comments on Arab voters from 2015.

“The entire story of the Camera Bill is just PR, it’s only manipulation,” he said at an event in Kfar Saba, according to the Walla news site. Liberman later told Channel 12 the bill was “another gimmick” by Netanyahu.

“If Netanyahu needs to appoint Ayman Odeh as foreign minister in order to stay in power, he won’t have any problem,” added Liberman, referring to the head of the Joint List alliance of Arab-majority parties.

Liberman, who prompted September’s elections by refusing to join Netanyahu’s proposed coalition after April’s elections, accused the premier of becoming unhinged toward politicians who don’t agree with him.

“I don’t remember a period when everyone who disagrees with Netanyahu is [lambasted by the prime minister as] a leftist and [as someone who ostensibly] wants to hurt him personally,” Liberman said. “We’ve never experienced something like this. The level of hysteria on a scale to 10 has already reached a level of 15-16.” Netanyahu branded Liberman “a leftist” after he refused to join the coalition in May.

Yisrael Beytenu party leader Avigdor Liberman speaks at Channel 12 news conference in Tel Aviv on September 5, 2019. (Hadas Parush/Flash90)

Likud was unable to form a ruling majority in negotiations after the last election, being only able to muster a total of 60 seats with coalition partners, one short of the majority it needed in the 120-seat Knesset. Netanyahu then dissolved parliament and called fresh elections.

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