'Netanyahu's personal militia' aim to alter election results

Liberman says he won’t vote for Netanyahu’s ‘election-stealing’ camera bill

Likely dooming the bill, Yisrael Beytenu head says he supports measures to prevent voter fraud, but calls legislation to surveil voters a bid by PM to interfere in upcoming ballot

Yisrael Beytenu party leader Avigdor Liberman speaks at Channel 12 news conference in Tel Aviv on September 5, 2019. (Hadas Parush/Flash90)
Yisrael Beytenu party leader Avigdor Liberman speaks at Channel 12 news conference in Tel Aviv on September 5, 2019. (Hadas Parush/Flash90)

Yisrael Beytenu party leader Avigdor Liberman said he will not vote in favor of a bill to place cameras at polling stations during next week’s elections, likely leaving the Likud-proposed legislation without the necessary Knesset votes to be made law.

Speaking to reporters at the Knesset ahead of a faction meeting Monday, Liberman called the legislation being pushed by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu an effort to steal the September 17 vote.

“What Netanyahu is trying to pass is not a voter observer bill; it is an election-stealing bill,” Liberman said.

He said his right-wing party supported placing cameras at polling stations to prevent voter fraud, but would only support such measures if they were introduced by the Knesset, not an individual party.

“This kind of oversight should not be managed by Netanyahu’s personal militia, who from the outset are not there to monitor voting, but to interfere in the election process and alter the results,” Liberman charged.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu (right) with then-defense minister Avigdor Liberman at a joint press conference on May 30, 2016. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

Liberman’s announcement was praised by Netanyahu’s main election rival, Blue and White chief Benny Gantz.

“Netanyahu’s bluff in an attempt to distract from the loss of deterrence in the south will not work on the Israeli public,” Gantz said in a statement. “The only fraudster in the political system is Netanyahu.”

Along with Liberman, Gantz has repeatedly criticized the prime minister over the violence emanating from the Gaza Strip and vowed to restore security to residents of the south if elected.

Netanyahu’s cabinet on Sunday unanimously approved the legislation to allow Likud representatives to bring cameras into polling stations on September 17, despite staunch opposition from the attorney general, the Central Elections Committee, and the Knesset’s legal adviser.

Netanyahu insists the legislation is only intended to prevent voter fraud, but critics say it’s an attempt to intimidate Arab voters ahead of the September 17 poll.

Despite the legal opposition, Netanyahu has vowed to pass the bill, which would allow poll watchers from competing political parties to bring cameras into polling stations during the upcoming elections.

Without the votes from Liberman’s party, it’s  unlikely that Netanyahu will be able to garner the necessary votes to pass the three required Knesset readings for his camera bill to become law.

But even if it were to pass in the Knesset, analysts say it is unlikely the bill could be implemented in time for the September 17 vote, as the government will find it difficult to defend it in court given the opposition from Attorney General Avichai Mandelblit and the Knesset elections panel.

Criticizing the legislative effort as “aberrant and flawed,” Mandelblit last week warned ministers the Camera Bill would undermine “the exercise of the fundamental right to vote and also the implementation of the legal obligation to conduct free, secret and equal elections.”

On Sunday the Knesset’s legal adviser, Eyal Yinon, joined Mandelblit in opposing the bill, calling it “unconstitutional.”  He argued in his legal opinion presented to lawmakers that the camera bill would provide an unfair advantage to the Likud party, which already has in its possession over 1,000 body cameras that it used to surveil polling stations in Arab towns during the April election.

Blue and White Party chairman MK Benny Gantz during the Israeli Television News Company conference in Tel Aviv on September 5, 2019. (Hadas Parush/Flash90)

During the April 9 vote, Likud equipped some 1,200 polling officials working at ballot stations in Arab population centers with hidden body cameras to prevent what the party claims was rampant fraud that has occurred in the community.

Critics charged that Likud’s efforts were a form of voter intimidation designed to keep the non-Jewish minority from the polls, a claim seemingly corroborated by the company contracted by Likud to carry out the operation.

Liberman, once Netanyahu’s close ally, has become one of his biggest rivals ahead of the elections. Polls predict his Yisrael Beytenu party would win 10 seats out of the 120 in parliament — meaning Netanyahu would likely again need him to form a right-wing coalition. But Liberman has maintained that he will only enter a secular unity government led by Likud and Blue and White and without the ultra-Orthodox parties, a prospect that Netanyahu has so far rejected.

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