Activists and election observers, primarily from the Likud party, placed at least 1,200 hidden cameras in polling stations in Arab towns Tuesday, prompting a police investigation.
Some of the cameras were hidden on the bodies of activists and observers from the party, and some were said to be installed in the polling stations. Other right-wing activists were also reportedly involved.
The effort included devices planted in Arab towns throughout the Galilee and Negev, and in Arab-majority areas in Haifa, Nazareth, and elsewhere.
Activists deployed the cameras in areas where they suspected there could be “problematic” levels of election fraud, according to the Ynet website.
Supreme Court Justice Hanan Melcer, chair of the Central Elections Committee, said filming inside polling stations was a breach of election law, Army Radio reported. Melcer issues a directive prohibiting filming voters inside polling stations, “except in the case of a special incident” in which audio recording is also allowed.
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Police officers deployed to polling stations discovered the hidden cameras being used by election observers from the Likud party in Arab towns, according to Channel 13. Police removed the cameras, but allowed the observers to continue working at the stations.
Challenged over the issue, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said, “There should be cameras everywhere, not hidden ones.” Asked by a reporter why that would be necessary, he replied: To “ensure a fair vote.”
In video footage, a young man with a hidden camera confronted at a polling station said he was acting on behalf of “my employers… Likud.”
The Hadash-Ta’al and Ra’am-Balad factions, the two main Arab parties running in Tuesday’s vote, submitted urgent complaints to the Elections Committee requesting the immediate removal of the cameras.
“This is an illegal measure meant to scare away voters,” Balad head Jamal Zahalka said in the complaint.
Likud leader Netanyahu, who is running for reelection as prime minister, drew widespread criticism in 2015 for claiming on election day — incorrectly, as it turned out — that Arab voters were “coming in droves” to the polls.
Netanyahu and Likud ministers have pushed the talking point that the choice in the election is between Netanyahu and the Arab lawmakers, chief among them the Ta’al party’s MK Ahmad Tibi. The refrain “It’s Bibi or Tibi,” using Netanyahu’s nickname, has been uttered multiple times in recent days by top party officials.
According to Ynet, the hidden camera campaign cost the Likud party “a not insubstantial sum.”
Cameras were also installed in polling stations in other areas, including ultra-Orthodox neighborhoods, where there have been suspicions of irregularities in the past, Channel 13 reported.