Hadash-Ta’al abstains from recommending a prime minister
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Hadash-Ta’al abstains from recommending a prime minister

In meeting with President Rivlin, party leaders accuse Netanyahu of ‘unbridled incitement’ during campaign, slam Likud over cameras at polls in Arab towns

Adam Rasgon is the Palestinian affairs reporter at The Times of Israel

Members of the Hadash-Ta'al party meet with Israeli president Reuven Rivlin at the President's Residence in Jerusalem, on April 15, 2019. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)
Members of the Hadash-Ta'al party meet with Israeli president Reuven Rivlin at the President's Residence in Jerusalem, on April 15, 2019. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

Hadash-Ta’al party leaders informed President Reuven Rivlin on Monday that they will not recommend anyone to serve as Israel’s next prime minister.

Hadash-Ta’al is an alliance of a socialist party that emphasizes Arab-Jewish cooperation and an exclusively Arab faction.

“We are not recommending anyone,” Hadash-Ta’al leader Ayman Odeh said, in a meeting between Rivlin and Hadash-Ta’al officials.

Rivlin also met Likud, Blue and White, United Torah Judaism, and Shas officials on Monday to ask them whom they recommend to serve as the next prime minister. The president will likely grant the candidate whom the highest number of lawmakers recommend the opportunity to form a governing coalition and become prime minister.

Likud, UTJ, and Shas told the president that they recommend Benjamin Netanyahu to continue to serve as prime minister, while Blue and White informed him it supports its own leader, Benny Gantz, for the role.

Netanyahu appears poised to form Israel’s next government, after right-wing parties won more than 60 seats in the Knesset in last Tuesday’s national elections.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu greets supporters at his Likud Party headquarters, in the coastal city of Tel Aviv on election night, early on April 10, 2019. (Thomas COEX / AFP)

During the meeting Monday with Rivlin, Odeh also blasted Netanyahu for what he branded his “divisive” election campaign.

“We endured the most difficult election campaign, which included unbridled incitement by the prime minister,” Odeh told Rivlin. “Since 1948, there has not been such a thing.”

During his election campaign, Netanyahu and his allies repeatedly made the claim that Gantz plans to rely on the backing of Israel’s Arab-majority parties to form a government, insinuating that such a move would deny him political legitimacy.

The prime minister also said in March that “Israel is not a state of all its citizens. According to the nation-state law we passed, Israel is the nation-state of the Jewish people — and not anyone else.”

The nation-state law, which the Knesset passed in July 2018, enshrined Israel as “the national home of the Jewish people,” recognized Jewish holidays and days of remembrance, and declared Hebrew the state’s sole national language.

Ahmad Tibi, number two on Hadash-Ta’al’s slate, took Likud to task for arranging for hidden cameras to be deployed at voting stations in Arab communities on election day.

“Thirteen-hundred cameras in the voting stations. The ruling party is taking pride in doing this thing and those who carried it out are saying, ‘We tried to harm the Arab parties and we succeeded in lowering the the [Arab] vote turnout,’” he said to Rivlin. “Mr. President, imagine if the ruling party in France placed 1,300 cameras in Jewish neighborhoods because Jews are falsifiers. That would sound really bad. Also here, that sounds very bad.”

Likud admitted last Tuesday that it was behind the scheme to place a reported 1,200 cameras in voting booths in Arab towns, which party officials said were designed to counter what they alleged were areas at high risk of voter fraud.

On Wednesday, Kaizler Inbar, an Israeli public relations firm, said that it had worked closely with Likud to equip election observers at polling stations in Arab towns with cameras, and contended with pride that the cameras were responsible for low Arab voter turnout.

Following the discovery of the cameras on Tuesday, Central Elections Committee chairman Justice Hanan Melcer said Israeli law only permits filming at polling stations during “extraordinary circumstances,” and ordered Likud to remove the equipment.

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)

Several Arab MKs have argued that the cameras were intended to “scare” Arabs from voting in the elections.

Arab residents of Tamra and Shfaram who spoke to The Times of Israel last week, including some who said they did not plan to cast a ballot, said the cameras did not intimidate them.

Residents of two towns in the Galilee, however, blasted Likud’s camera scheme, with some calling it “racist.”

“Everyone should be subject to the same procedures and protocols,” 32-year-old Mohammed Yassin, a construction worker, said. “If they want election observers to wear cameras in Arab villages, they ought to make sure the same is done in Jewish towns.”

Fifty-two percent of eligible Arab Israelis cast ballots in Tuesday’s elections, Yousef Makladeh, an Arab Israeli statistician estimated. In the elections in 2013 and 2015, respectively, some 54% and 63.7% of Arab Israelis voted, according to estimates calculated after those elections.

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