Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu personally suggested sending 1,200 activists with hidden cameras to voting stations in the April 9 Knesset elections, Channel 13 reported Monday.
On election day, Likud activists arrived with hidden cameras in voting booths in Arab towns throughout the country. Officials from Netanyahu’s party admitted to having been behind the scheme, which they said was designed to counter alleged voter fraud in “high-risk” areas.
The judge overseeing the elections said the use of cameras inside polling stations was a breach of election rules, and ordered them removed.
Netanyahu presented the camera plan at the very first Likud election meeting months ago, according to Channel 13, which said the project cost NIS 1.5 million ($417,000). (At the previous elections, in 2015, Netanyahu claimed Arab voters were being bused in droves to the polling stations, and urged his Likud supporters to be sure to vote in order to offset this.)
Channel 13 published pages from a detailed 40-slide presentation, outlining the operation in detail.
Carried out by Kaizler Inbar, a pro-settler public relations firm, the operation included 1,200 cameras and recording devices, 40 coordinators throughout the country and 19 security force personnel dispatched to protect the activists in the event they were caught.
Likud member Yoav Gallant, who ran campaign operations for the party, led the training of the surveillance volunteers, which lasted for over 30 days.
Responding to the report, the Likud stood by its election day effort, asserting it “prevented the stealing of the elections and strengthened democracy.”
The party’s statement to Channel 13 said the Likud planned to introduce legislation that would require cameras to be placed in every voting booth throughout the country. Such a measure would be a breach of current election laws. It would likely face petitions to the Supreme Court, whose power many in Netanyahu’s likely next coalition have vowed to limit. It may also face objections from the ultra-Orthodox parties whose communities have faced similar accusations of voter fraud, but were not targeted in the Likud’s election day surveillance operation.
On Sunday, Central Elections Committee Hanan Melcer asked Attorney General Avichai Mandelblit and acting Israel Police chief Motti Cohen to open a criminal investigation into alleged election fraud, citing several incidents of suspected irregularities.
Melcer said his request was the result of evidence provided to him by Likud MK David Bitan, a staunch loyalist of Netanyahu.
He detailed two cases of ballot boxes where fraud is suspected. One of them, in the Arab Israeli town of Kisra-Sumei in the Western Galilee, had 97 percent of eligible voters turn up — far above the national turnout of 67.9%.
Additionally, all the results from that ballot box were in round numbers, a combination that Melcer said “raises questions and necessitates an investigation.”
He said he wasn’t authorized to disqualify the results in those and other voting stations. He asked to receive an update within 30 days as to what action had been taken.
Melcer said in his letter that police should gather all the evidence received using the Likud-deployed cameras — under certain, unspecified restrictions — and decide whether the footage and recordings require further action. According to Channel 12 news, the Likud alleges its cameras and other evidence show voting fraud in 115 polling stations.
Melcer has not responded to calls by politicians and activists to investigate Likud for placing the hidden cameras at the polling booths.
On Thursday, Meretz MK Michal Rozin also said she had sent an urgent letter to Mandelblit urging him to investigate Likud’s placement of the cameras.
“Likud tried to deter voters in the Arab community from exercising their democratic right, in a manner that could constitute a threat,” she wrote on Twitter.
Kaizler Inbar said earlier this month that it had worked closely with Likud to equip election observers at polling stations in Arab towns with cameras, and contended with pride that these were responsible for low Arab voter turnout.
Kaizler Inbar directly linked the campaign to the low voter turnout this election among Arab Israelis, bragging it was “the lowest that was seen in recent years!”
Fifty-two percent of eligible Arab Israelis cast ballots in the elections, Yousef Makladeh, an Arab Israeli statistician estimated. In the elections in 2013 and 2015, some 54% and 63.7%, of Arab Israelis, respectively, voted, according to estimates calculated after those elections.