Elections chief turns down Netanyahu’s request to meet over ‘election fraud’

Hanan Melcer cites ‘tight schedule’ two days before ballot in refusing PM’s call to discuss claims of voter fraud in Arab towns, panned by opponents as Likud campaign stunt

Justice Hanan Melcer, chairman of the Central Elections Committee. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)
Justice Hanan Melcer, chairman of the Central Elections Committee. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

The elections chief has turned down Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s request for an “emergency” meeting to discuss the premier’s claims of rampant voter fraud in the Arab community.

Supreme Court Justice Hanan Melcer, who chairs the Central Elections Committee and has overall responsibility for ensuring the fairness and accuracy of the vote, explained that he would not be meeting with Netanyahu or any other party leader before the election.

In a Sunday statement refusing the meeting, the committee cited its “tight schedule” just two days before the September 17 vote, “and the fact that the committee is not an investigative body and does not have any concrete authority to instruct the police.”

The committee and its chair, Melcer, “have worked tirelessly with police and the state prosecution to speed up the investigations” into fraud complaints, the statement said.

It added: “The prime minister and any other party leader may address the committee in writing.”

Netanyahu’s Saturday request to urgently meet with Melcer over alleged voter fraud was slammed by opposition politicians as a campaign stunt meant to “incite and divide.” Several parties followed up on the Likud leader’s request by demanding one-on-one meetings with Melcer for their leaders as well.

In a tweet Sunday, Blue and White party leader Benny Gantz accused Netanyahu of seeking to undermine Israel’s democracy and targeting Melcer by claiming there was widespread fraud in the last elections.

“After trampling the image of the police, prosecutors and Supreme Court, Netanyahu is carrying out a targeted killing of the Central Elections Committee. He is a leading a process of delegitimization against the basic democratic process,” Gantz said.

An Arab Israeli man (L) registers before voting in elections for the Knesset on April 9, 2019, at a school turned polling station in the northern town of Tayibe. (Ahmad Gharabli/AFP)

Hebrew media quoted Netanyahu’s Likud party as saying the request was made “in order to ensure that there won’t be any additional election theft in these elections.”

The request came a day after a report in the Maariv daily alleged that police had questioned only two out of 82 election officials who reported irregularities at their voting stations during the elections in April.

Likud has recently asserted that Ra’am-Balad, an alliance of two Arab parties that cleared the electoral threshold of 3.25 percent of votes by a margin of just a few hundred ballots, had made it into the Knesset thanks to fraudulent votes. The ruling party claimed that Ra’am-Balad’s purported fraud had deprived Likud of a majority coalition in the 120-member Knesset, and forced Netanyahu to call the new round of elections on September 17.

The party’s claim has not been substantiated by evidence and a police investigation into voter fraud has found only minimal tampering, with some known cases of fraud benefiting Likud itself or the ultra-Orthodox Shas party.

Furthermore, police only found sufficient evidence to justify a criminal investigation at one of 140 polling stations flagged by Likud for alleged fraudulent activity by Israel’s Arab minority, the Kan public broadcaster reported last week.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu (R) meeting Supreme Court President Esther Hayut and her deputy Hanan Melcer (L) at the Prime Minister’s Office in Jerusalem on May 28, 2019. (Courtesy)

“A disgrace,” Labor Party leader Amir Peretz said of the premier’s request for an emergency meeting. “What interests Netanyahu is a few polling stations that didn’t change anything, in order to incite and divide.”

Blue and White MK Karine Elharrar said that Netanyahu’s request was out of line.

“The Central Elections Committee chairman is an official of the state who decides fairly for all parties. Netanyahu can’t exploit his position to summon Judge Melcer,” Elharrar tweeted.

The Democratic Camp, an alliance of left-wing parties, said it was Likud that should be under scrutiny.

“Likud are the main suspects in the fraud attempts in the elections four months ago. Kahanist thugs and Netanyahu are threatening to violently sabotage the elections,” it tweeted, referring to the extremist Otzma Yehudit party and a reported effort by pro-West Bank settlement groups to send volunteer “guards” to Arab polling stations to ensure no fraud attempts — an initiative slammed as a form of intimidation seeking to keep Arab voters home.

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)

The request came just days after a Likud-backed bill to allow political parties to bring recording devices into voting stations failed to clear a first reading in the Knesset.

Likud sought to pass the legislation before the September 17 vote despite opposition from Melcer, the attorney general and the Knesset’s legal adviser, arguing it was necessary to prevent voter fraud on election day.

In April’s elections, 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 election committee has since banned their use.

Netanyahu accused opponents of the bill of wanting to “steal” the elections. They hit back, saying that the prime minister was pushing the legislation to sow doubt about the validity of the final election results in case he again comes up short of a majority.

Some analysts have seen Likud’s claims that rival parties are trying to steal the elections as a ploy to shore up backing among right-wing voters and have likened it to Netanyahu’s comments on election day in 2015 that “Arab voters are coming in droves to the polls,” remarks he later apologized for.

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