Likud forging ahead with camera law bid despite near-certain defeat

Likud forging ahead with camera law bid despite near-certain defeat

PM says Wednesday vote on controversial measure allowing surveillance of polling booths will ‘find out who supports voter fraud’

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

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu attends the weekly cabinet meeting in Jerusalem on July 14, 2019. (Ronen Zvulun/POOL/AFP)
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu attends the weekly cabinet meeting in Jerusalem on July 14, 2019. (Ronen Zvulun/POOL/AFP)

The Likud party will push ahead with a controversial bill that would allow party operatives to bring cameras into polling stations during next week’s elections, despite the measure facing almost certain defeat after losing a key vote in a Knesset committee earlier in the week, the party said Tuesday.

The spokesperson said the bill would be brought to the Knesset Wednesday afternoon for its first plenary reading.

The so called camera law failed to gain majority support in the Knesset Regulatory Committee Monday when MKs voted 12-12 on a motion to fast-track the measure so that the bill would not have to wait the usual 48 hours before a Knesset vote. The tie came about after Yisrael Beytenu pulled support for the bill, foretelling its almost certain doom in the full Knesset.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu nonetheless said in a Tuesday statement that he planned to bring the bill to the plenum floor “to find out who supports voter fraud and who opposes it.”

The bill would allow representatives of Likud and other parties to bring cameras into polling stations, ostensibly to thwart fraud. It has faced staunch opposition from the attorney general, the Central Elections Committee, and the Knesset’s legal adviser, as well as critics who say allowing such a move would lead to voter suppression.

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)

Netanyahu’s cabinet on Sunday unanimously approved the legislation, with the prime minister insisting the bill was only intended to prevent voter fraud, which Likud claims is rampant in some Arab-majority areas.

On Sunday the Knesset’s legal adviser, Eyal Yinon, called the bill unconstitutional. He argued in his legal opinion presented to lawmakers that it 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.

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.

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; since the government would 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 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.”

Speaking to reporters at the Knesset ahead of a faction meeting Monday, Yisrael Beytenu chair Avigdor Liberman called the legislation 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 not in the hands of poll observers who represent individual parties.

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