Knesset speaker rejects ‘arrogant’ bid by foreign observers to monitor elections
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Call comes as Likud party blocks transparency measures

Knesset speaker rejects ‘arrogant’ bid by foreign observers to monitor elections

Amid warnings of efforts to manipulate voters, Edelstein calls unprecedented request by global body to oversee April 9 vote ‘inconceivable… unparalleled expression of arrogance’

Raoul Wootliff is the The Times of Israel's political correspondent.

Knesset Speaker Yuli Edelstein attends a committee meeting at the Knesset, July 2, 2018. (Hadas Parush/Flash90)
Knesset Speaker Yuli Edelstein attends a committee meeting at the Knesset, July 2, 2018. (Hadas Parush/Flash90)

Knesset Speaker Yuli Edelstein has rejected a call by an inter-parliamentary organization for international observers to come to Israel to monitor the national election in an attempt to reduce foul play, amid warnings that both local and foreign operatives intend to influence the April election through online meddling,

“We have never accepted the presence of outside observers of our democratic process, and the idea that we would ever do so is inconceivable,” Edelstein’s chief of staff Eran Sidis wrote on behalf of the Knesset speaker in a letter to the Parliamentary Assembly of the Mediterranean seen by The Times of Israel.

In its first such request regarding Israeli elections, the international forum, which unites 26 European, North African and Middle Eastern parliaments including Israel’s, sought to send “a delegation of observers” to oversee the vote.

Edelstein “rejected the request as an unparalleled expression of arrogance,” Sidis said in the letter sent on Sunday to the office of the secretary general of the regional forum, which has observer status at the United Nations.

According to the Knesset International Affairs division, Israel’s membership in PAM aims “to support the political dialogue between member states, create security stability, promote peace in the area, and form initiatives and recommendations on its behalf to various governments, parliaments and forums.” MKs regularly take part in the forum’s meetings and the organization’s delegations  often visit the Israeli parliament, but Edelstein said that under no circumstances would Israel accept any PAM monitoring of its electoral process.

A delegation of the Parliamentary Assembly of the Mediterranean visits the Knesset in Jerusalem, November 2013. (Knesset)

“Since gaining independence more than seventy years ago, the nation-state of the Jewish people has been a beacon of democracy that illuminates its surroundings. It ensures that all its citizens benefit from the freedoms of assembly and the press, safeguards human rights, and carries out changes of government in an orderly manner through a fair process that is fully and independently overseen by the relevant authorities,” the letter continued.

Edelstein’s outright rejection of the request comes as his Likud party is actively seeking to block proposed measures to prevent voter manipulation by foreign countries or Israeli internet operatives via Facebook and other social media platforms.

Responding to a plea earlier this month from Central Elections Committee chairman Supreme Court Justice Hanan Melcer, the Likud party pushed back against all efforts to apply basic transparency standards on online campaigning. That rejection, charged an Israeli expert on internet legislation and election manipulation, appears to signal that Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s party plans to make use of dubious methods that gained prominence in the 2016 US presidential elections.

Facebook was caught off guard by the announcement of Israeli elections in April, but will soon announce strategies for protecting the platform and its users from online manipulation and abuse, The Times of Israel has learned. At this point, however, no fact-checkers have been employed to specifically flag problematic content in the run-up to national ballot — as they have been, in their thousands, for elections elsewhere in the world.

The social media giant has been widely discredited for having failed to stymie Russian meddling in the 2016 US presidential elections, and for allowing the British firm, Cambridge Analytica, to acquire data from tens of millions of Facebook users, on the basis of which Cambridge Analytica developed algorithms to micro-target voters with personalized political messaging.

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