Doomed Likud camera bill falls at first Knesset hurdle

Doomed Likud camera bill falls at first Knesset hurdle

Opposition figures brand Netanyahu a ‘loser,’ boycott vote on law that would have allowed parties to bring recording devices into polling places

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu speaks during a debate on the so-called Camera Bill at the Knesset on September 11, 2019. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu speaks during a debate on the so-called Camera Bill at the Knesset on September 11, 2019. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

A contentious bill to allow political parties to bring recording devices into polling stations was unable to advance past a preliminary vote Wednesday after failing to pick up the support of a majority of lawmakers in the Knesset.

The so-called camera bill was championed by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s Likud party, which sought to pass it before general elections on September 17 despite opposition from the attorney general, the head of the Central Elections Committee and the Knesset’s legal adviser.

The legislation would have allowed poll workers from various parties to film inside polling booths.

Likud has argued the bill is necessary to prevent what it claims is rampant voting fraud in some Arab communities, while critics have said it was designed to suppress voter turnout among Arab Israelis.

Though it was clear the bill would fall short of its needed majority, Netanyahu said Tuesday he would push for the vote anyway “to find out who supports voter fraud and who opposes it.”

The legislation, which would have amended one of Israel’s quasi-constitutional Basic Laws, needed the support of 61 lawmakers in the 120-seat Knesset to move forward.

The bid failed 58-0, with all opposition members abstaining.

Yisrael Beytenu leader MK Avigdor Liberman at a faction meeting at the Knesset, in Jerusalem, on September 9, 2019. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

Likud blamed the loss on Avigdor Liberman and his Yisrael Beytenu party. Liberman said over the weekend he would support the bill but then rescinded his support, saying that he was in favor of placing cameras at polling stations to prevent voter fraud but not in the hands of poll observers who represent individual parties.

“The camera bill fell because of one man — Avigdor Liberman — who joined with [Yair] Lapid and [Benny] Gantz and the Arab parties in order to allow fraud and the stealing of votes,” the party wrote on its Twitter page, referring to the leaders of the Blue and White party.

Before the vote, Liberman accused Netanyahu of spreading “lies” concerning his position on the bill and charged that Likud was not in fact interested in the integrity of the elections.

“You don’t intend to place cameras… but rather to interfere with voting at polling booths where Yisrael Beytenu is strong by means of cameras, thugs and spreading fake news on social media,” Liberman wrote on Facebook.

Other opponents of the bill described the vote as a personal failure for Netanyahu.

“The law that the prime minister put all his political weight behind fell. Bibi became a serial loser in all fields,” Lapid tweeted, using Netanyahu’s nickname.

After the vote, Democratic Camp, an electoral alliance of left-wing parties, shared an image on social media of Netanyahu with the word “loser” branded on his forehead.

Following the bill’s failure to advance past a preliminary reading, an unnamed senior Likud official told the Haaretz daily that the ruling party would stop seeking to advance the proposed legislation.

During a debate ahead of the vote, Joint List MK Ayman Odeh, the Knesset’s top Arab lawmaker, was ejected for confronting Netanyahu with a cellphone camera and calling him a “liar.”

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)

On Monday, the 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.

Netanyahu’s cabinet on Sunday unanimously approved the legislation, with the prime minister insisting the bill was only intended to prevent voter fraud.

But legal experts, including government officials, have warned against allowing cameras and ramming the legislation through.

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.

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)

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 have passed in the Knesset, analysts said it was 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.”

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