'The police will not allow any violence, or any provocation'

Fearing trouble as Israel votes, record 20,000 cops deploying at poll stations

Central Elections Committee dispatching 3,000 camera-equipped observers, with instructions to call the cops if anyone found filming illegally

An Israeli votes in Haifa, during the Knesset elections on April 9, 2019. (Meir Vaknin/ Flash90)
An Israeli votes in Haifa, during the Knesset elections on April 9, 2019. (Meir Vaknin/ Flash90)

Concerned by the prospect of disturbances as Israel votes on Tuesday, an unprecedented near 20,000 uniformed and plainclothes police officers are being deployed at the country’s 10,700 polling stations.

“The police will not allow any violence, or any provocation that causes disturbances or constitutes a threat to voters,” the head of the police election authority, Sigal Bar-Tzvi said on Monday.

Most of the officers will be equipped with body cameras to document any disturbances, Channel 13 news reported.

The Central Elections Committee is dispatching 3,000 observers, all with cameras, to polling stations deemed potential trouble spots. These observers have been told to immediately call the cops if they catch anybody else filming at polling stations, the TV report said.

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)

In April’s elections, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s Likud sent 1,200 party observers to polling stations in the Arab sector, in what it claimed was an effort to prevent voter fraud and critics said was a campaign intended to deter Arab voters and suppress the vote.

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)

Central Elections Committee head Hanan Melcer, a Supreme Court justice, barred Likud and other parties from attempting to do so on Tuesday. An effort by Netanyahu to fast-track legislation allowing party observers to film inside the stations — although not behind the screens where voters make their choice — was defeated in the Knesset.

Netanyahu has charged that those who opposed the failed camera bill want “to steal the elections” and on Sunday protested what he called the “scandalous” failure of Melcer’s committee to act against what he claimed is widespread voter fraud in the Arab sector. Melcer refused to meet with Netanyahu on the matter Sunday.

Labor party activists claimed Monday that Likud has recruited “thugs” to try to interfere with the voting process at Labor strongholds, and Blue and White leader Benny Gantz has warned of a “suspicion” that Netanyahu’s party is going to encourage disturbances at polling stations — an allegation rebuffed by Likud.

Itamar Ben Gvir of Otzma Yehudit at a party branch in Safed, northern Israel, on September 8, 2019 (David Cohen/Flash90)

Extremist Otzma Yehudit leader Itamar Ben Gvir denied in an Army Radio interview on Monday evening that his party plans to create disturbances at polling stations in Arab areas. He said it would dispatch observers to such stations, in order to help ensure there was no fraud.

Despite Netanyahu’s repeated claims of voter fraud in April, police investigations from April’s vote have found minimal tampering, with minor cases of abuse having benefited Likud and the ultra-Orthodox Shas. The Central Elections Committee has also rejected allegations of fraud.

Netanyahu failed to form a majority coalition after the April vote and so dissolved parliament, calling fresh elections for Tuesday. When polls close at 10 p.m., Israel’s three main TV stations will issue exit polls, which have often proved inaccurate. Actual results will flow in overnight Tuesday-Wednesday, with the count expected to take longer than in the past, as the Committee will take extra precautions to avoid confusion and incorrectly published figures that marred the count in April.

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