Netanyahu alleges ‘rampant’ Arab voter fraud scandal, but his claim is unfounded
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Analysis'To say nothing done to combat voter fraud is preposterous'

Netanyahu alleges ‘rampant’ Arab voter fraud scandal, but his claim is unfounded

PM insists law enforcement not properly probing ballot infractions in Arab sector; official says Likud’s officials endured threats, but those cases did not amount to voter fraud

Jacob Magid

Jacob Magid is the settlements correspondent for The Times of Israel.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu gives a press statement in the Knesset on September 15, 2019. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu gives a press statement in the Knesset on September 15, 2019. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

With less than 36 hours until polls open, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on Sunday stepped up his claim that this week’s election is being “stolen” from him, because of a lack of enforcement against “rampant” voter fraud in Arab communities.

The allegation has led him to lash out at just about everyone, from political rivals in the “leftist” Blue and White and Yisrael Beytenu parties who voted down a bill that would have allowed party operatives to film inside ballot stations, to the attorney general who refused to give his blessing to such legislation. Opponents of his thwarted camera legislation, he said last week, want “to steal the elections.”

On Sunday, the onus for the “scandal” fell on Central Election Committee chairman Hanan Melcer, who turned down the premier’s request for an “emergency” meeting to discuss the matter. “The conduct of the Central Elections Committee has been scandalous. Seriously!” the prime minister charged after Melcer rebuffed him.

But for all his rage over having been “robbed” in April and over the possibility of enduring another “theft” on Tuesday, the evidence Netanyahu has presented proving the voter fraud has been limited at best, with the Central Elections Committee saying it has not established any significant cases of fraud.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu (R) meeting Supreme Court President Esther Hayut and her deputy Hanan Melcer (L) at the Prime Minister’s Office in Jerusalem on May 28, 2019. (Courtesy)

In a bitter speech at the Knesset on Sunday, Netanyahu referred to what he called a “shocking” weekend column in the Maariv daily that alleged police had questioned only two out of 82 election officials who reported irregularities at their voting stations during the elections in April.

The report offered a damning portrayal of the police’s work, or lack thereof, in probing material delivered by Likud from 140 ballot stations in the Arab sector where Netanyahu’s party alleged fraud had taken place last April. Then, Likud deployed some 1,200 people with hidden cameras to Arab polling stations in an operation whose organizers boasted as having been responsible for the record low turnout in the Arab sector.

“They stole the last election thanks to massive voter fraud at the polls. There were complaints filed about it and we thought those complaints were being probed,” Netanyahu stormed.

A law enforcement official speaking on the condition of anonymity defended the police’s work and said that while the Likud material showed significant proof of threats endured by the party’s polling officials while on the job, those instances did not amount to voter fraud. With limited time and resources, police focused on more substantial investigations into the matter — probes that weren’t opened based on evidence supplied by Likud, the official said.

Joint List party leader Ayman Odeh filming Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu during a discussion on the cameras bill at the Knesset, in Jerusalem on September 11, 2019 (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

Netanyahu has claimed that Ra’am-Balad, an alliance of two Arab parties that cleared the electoral threshold of 3.25% of votes by a margin of just a few hundred ballots, made it into the Knesset thanks to fraudulent votes. The prime minister asserted their purported fraud deprived Likud of a majority coalition in the 120-member Knesset, and forced Netanyahu to call the new round of elections on September 17.

This claim has not been substantiated by evidence and a police investigation into voter fraud has found only minimal tampering, with some of the few known cases of fraud actually benefiting Likud or the ultra-Orthodox Shas party.

At Kisra-Sumei, a Druze town in northern Israel, evidence was found indicating there were fraudulent votes during the April 9 elections that benefited the ruling Likud, while in Tamra, also in the north, a Shas representative was suspected of adding seven extra voting slips. In the  latter case, police announced on Sunday that they would be filing an indictment against him.

Separately, The Times of Israel obtained records from over 100 polling stations that were found to have irregular voter turnouts relative to the figures at adjacent stations. While a portion of those polling stations were located in Arab towns, they made up less than a third of the total, which also included irregular turnouts in the ultra-Orthodox settlements of Modiin Illit and Beitar Illit, as well as the cities of Petah Tikva, Afula, Netanya, and Rosh Ha’ayin.

A Palestinian prepares to cast her vote during local elections on October 30, 2018, in Shuafat, east Jerusalem. (Photo by AHMAD GHARABLI / AFP)

The law enforcement official who spoke to The Times of Israel acknowledged that there had been more than a few attempts at tampering with election results, but he insisted that police were equipped to deal with the matter, and that it wasn’t a “phenomenon,” nor “a problem prone to one particular community.”

“And to say that nothing is being done to combat voter fraud is preposterous,” the official added, referencing a pilot program launched by Melcer for nonpartisan camera-equipped observers for Tuesday’s vote.

The initiative will see 3,000 independent election observers polling stations throughout the country. They will be equipped with body cameras to be turned on in instances when there is a legitimate fear of voter fraud and when permission from the election committee has been granted.

As the voting ends at 10 p.m., the pilot team will be stationed at specific stations flagged by the election committee as having shown inconsistencies in their vote counts during last April’s election.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu speaks during a debate on the so-called Camera Bill at the Knesset on September 11, 2019. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

After the last voter has left the station, the poll watchers will be required to film the entire ballot counting process. They will not be allowed to leave the station until the tally has been completed.

Central Elections Committee director Orly Ades held a press conference last week in which she detailed additional measures that will be instituted to prevent fraud during the ballot count, procedures that she said would delay the issuing of the final results by a “good few hours.”

But Netanyahu has made no mention of these new mechanisms and he has engaged in an exhaustive, last-minute get out the vote campaign that some speculate is laying the groundwork for one of two possible declarations he may voice upon hearing Tuesday’s night’s results: Either Likud supporters came out in droves and overcame the left-wing efforts to steal the elections, or the voter fraud was so great that the outcome deserves to be questioned altogether.

Asked by reporters at the end of his Tuesday Knesset address if he plans to cast doubt on Tuesday’s election results, Netanyahu avoided answering, instead reiterating that “there is a serious problem of voter fraud.”

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