Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu seethed Monday, while his political opponents rejoiced, after a controversial bill the premier had pushed to allow party operatives to bring cameras into polling stations failed to get approval to be brought for a Knesset vote.
Netanyahu blasted Yisrael Beytenu party leader Avigdor Liberman for scuppering the bill by withdrawing support two days after saying he would back it.
“What is particularly disappointing is that Liberman has joined the left-wing and the Arab parties,” Netanyahu said in a statement.
“He once said that within 48 hours he would eliminate [Hamas leader Ismail] Haniyeh and now within 48 hours he flip-flopped and went with Ahmad Tibi and Ayman Odeh,” the premier said, referring to two senior lawmakers in the Joint List alliance of Arab and Arab-majority parties.
He also accused his chief election rivals in the centrist Blue and White Party of siding with the Arab MKs.
Liberman in response said he fully supported oversight at polling locations, including through use of cameras, but only by the official bodies overseeing the election. He said he would not accept oversight “carried out by Netanyahu’s militias, whose entire purpose is to disrupt and steal the elections, not to oversee them.”
Blue and White Party leader MK Benny Gantz declared in a statement that “today, sanity won.” Gantz warned, “In the coming days Netanyahu will continue with his spin — he will try to disrupt election day, to sow doubt in the election results, and he is likely to bring back this bill.”
Blue and White No. 2 MK Yair Lapid said Netanyahu “loses again… He has become a serial loser.”
MK Odeh, the Joint List leader, welcomed the bill’s failure.
“The camera bill has fallen and Netanyahu is embarking on a final battle against the Arab community, the legal system and the entire democratic space,” Odeh said in a statement. “Bibi’s show of playing the victim is coming to an end,” he said using the prime minister’s nickname.
MK Amir Peretz, leader of Labor-Gesher, said the development was “a wrench in works of Benjamin Netanyahu’s racism and incitement.”
The bill ran into a roadblock in the form of a Knesset Regulatory committee vote on a motion to shorten the normal legislative process so the bill could go to a speedy vote. MKs tied 12-12, with Yisrael Beytenu lawmakers voting against the proposal, thus preventing the bill from facing a scheduled first reading in the plenum later in the day.
The camera bill would have allowed representatives of Likud and other parties to bring cameras into polling stations, despite staunch opposition from the attorney general, the Central Elections Committee, and the Knesset’s legal adviser.
Netanyahu’s cabinet on Sunday had unanimously approved the legislation, with the prime minister insisting the bill was only intended to prevent voter fraud. Critics, however, maintained that the bill was a an attempt to intimidate Arab voters ahead of the September 17 poll.
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.
Netanyahu was unable to form a majority coalition after the election because secular Liberman refused to join his government, citing an impasse with ultra-Orthodox parties. Likud accused Liberman of deliberately thwarting the coalition efforts for his own political gain.
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 unity government led by Likud and Blue and White and without the ultra-Orthodox parties, a prospect that Netanyahu has so far rejected.