Blue and White head Benny Gantz expressed fears Monday that Israel could see violence at ballot stations when the country heads to the polls next week, after a controversial legislative bid to allow voters to be filmed to thwart alleged fraud was shot down earlier in the day.
Gantz, speaking in an on-stage interview co-sponsored by The Times of Israel and the Tel Aviv International Salon, said he was “afraid” Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu did not believe violence should be rejected.
Urging the audience to go out and vote on September 17, Gantz called on voters to “reject any kind of violence that you see [on election day]. This is a democratic process. It’s a non-violent process… because I’m afraid that not everybody thinks like me, [including] Israel’s leader.”
The remarks came hours after a Knesset committee blocked a controversial bill that would have allowed party operatives to bring cameras into polling stations during the September 17 vote.
The Likud party had introduced the legislation in an effort to send thousands of activists to polling stations armed with recorders, to stymie what it has claimed is rampant voter fraud in Arab majority areas. Critics say the camera campaign is designed to dampen turnout by deterring Arab voters, and note that election supervisors have found no significant evidence of voter fraud.
In April, Netanyahu’s party equipped some 1,200 of its polling station representatives in Arab towns with cameras. At several locations, the discovery of the cameras led to skirmishes between Likud officials and local poll workers, who were frustrated over having been targeted in the covert operation.
The law would have allowed several poll officials from different parties to all film anything happening at the polling station aside from the actual votes being cast.
On Sunday, Central Election Committee director Orly Adas told Channel 12 news that allowing hundreds of biased party officials to film whenever they deem necessary would almost certainly lead to brawls in polling stations.
A day earlier, Yisrael Beytenu party chief Avigdor Liberman, who initially said he would back the camera law before pulling support suddenly Monday, accused Likud of planning on sending teams of thugs to disrupt the vote at polling stations where his party was expected to have a strong showing.
Likud decried the accusation, calling it a “lie and a falsehood.”
Criticizing the camera bill and calling for better government treatment of Israel’s Arab citizens and other minorities, Gantz said a coalition under his leadership would “not take advantage of being the majority, but take responsibility for being the majority.”
But he also claimed that Israel’s Arab citizens and Palestinians living in the West Bank under Israeli military occupation were better off than most other Arabs in the region.
“If you are not a Saudi who sneezes $200 bills, then the best place to be an Arab in the Middle East is in Israel and the second best place is in the West Bank,” he argued.
The Blue and White chairman made the comments during the latest in a series of pre-election English-language events co-hosted by The Times of Israel along with the Tel Aviv International Salon.
Gantz held an on-stage conversation with Israeli actress and Hollywood producer Noa Tishby, and a subsequent Q&A session was facilitated by Times of Israel’s political correspondent Raoul Wootliff.
Asked what his first request of US President Donald Trump would be if he were elected prime minister, Gantz said he would reach out to look for ways to depoliticize the relationship.
“Mr. President, let us find ways in which US-Israeli relations do not become a political issue,” he said in an apparent rebuke of recent remarks made by Trump that have been criticized as damaging to the bipartisan nature of Washington’s support for Jerusalem.
Trump last month publicly called on Israel to bar Democratic Congresswoman Rashida Tlaib and Ilhan Omar from visiting the Jewish state due to their criticism of its policies. Shortly after the president tweeted his feelings on the matter, the Israeli government announced its refusal to grant the BDS supporting representatives from entering, after initially saying it would allow them in.
The decision to ban Omar and Tlaib was roundly criticized by Democrats and leading US Jewish groups, prompting Trump to charge that American Jews who vote Democrat display “either a total lack of knowledge or great disloyalty.”
Netanyahu, who maintains a close relationship with Trump, has refrained from commenting on the controversial statements, and has used his warm ties with Trump as a selling point to voters.
Gantz on Monday criticized Omar and Tlaib’s support for BDS, but called the prime minister’s decision not to let them in a “mistake.”
Gantz also criticized Netanyahu’s decision to go public hours earlier with Israel’s exposing of a secret nuclear facility in central Iran.
The premier “should do as much as possible and talk as little as possible, and [Netanyahu’s] doing the other way around,” he said.
Netanyahu on Monday revealed what Israel claims is a secret nuclear facility in central Iran where the regime conducted experiments in the pursuit of nuclear weapons.
The revelation, made in a dramatic televised address just eight days before the election, drew accusations from the Likud leader’s opponents that he was abusing his access to sensitive intelligence and sacrificing Israel’s national security interests for a campaign stunt.
Gantz at the Monday event reiterated his intention to form a “secular unity government,” saying he would reach out to the Likud, Yisrael Beytenu and Labor parties to join his coalition.
He added that his pursuit of a secular government did not impinge on his commitment to Israel as a Jewish state.
“We cannot separate Judaism from the Jewish state,” he said, explaining that he preferred to allow more secular towns to observe Shabbat in ways that best suit them.