Netanyahu: Those who oppose polling station cameras ‘want to steal elections’

Analysts say PM stepping up his rhetoric as elections approach, but warn his words could lead to violence if he loses vote; AG says cameras will undermine elections

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu leaves 10 Downing Street in London on September 5, 2019, after a meeting with Britain's Prime Minister Boris Johnson. (Daniel Leal-Olivas/AFP)
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu leaves 10 Downing Street in London on September 5, 2019, after a meeting with Britain's Prime Minister Boris Johnson. (Daniel Leal-Olivas/AFP)

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu warned Friday that his opponents are opposed to allowing political parties to bring cameras into polling stations because they “want to steal the election.”

Speaking to reporters before departing from London to Israel, the premier said: “It is not a coincidence that Benny Gantz and [Blue and White’s Yair] Lapid oppose cameras, because they want the election to be stolen.”

“Only someone who wants to steal the election would oppose the placement of cameras,” said Netanyahu who has been pushing the Knesset to pass a last-ditch bill allowing the cameras after the head of the election committee banned the move.

“Placing cameras prevents stolen elections,” Netanyahu said, noting that Israel was saturated with cameras to prevent crimes, including in kindergartens.

Analysts said Netanyahu’s unfounded accusations were part of  his well-known “gevalt” campaigns ahead of votes where he attempted to scare his electorate into voting with doomsday scenarios.

However, they also warned that he could be laying the groundwork for a narrative to dispute the results in case he lost the elections.

“It is very, very frightening,” said Channel 12 political analyst Rina Matzliach. “If some of his more ardent supporters believe he has had the election stolen from him, it could lead to violence in the streets.”

A day earlier, Gantz appeared to anticipate Netanyahu’s tactics, saying that the PM was preparing the ground for a claim that “they’ve stolen the elections” if he loses on September 17.

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)

Speaking at a Channel 12 conference, Gantz said Netanyahu was undermining the legal hierarchies he should be protecting as prime minister. Regarding cameras in polling booths, Gantz said his party would respect the decision of election chief Supreme Court Justice Hanan Melcer.

Later Friday Attorney General Avichai Mandelblit warned the government against rushing through a law allowing political parties to bring cameras into polling stations, saying the move was “aberrant and flawed” and would undermine the entire vote.

In a legal opinion sent to government ministers, Mandelblit said the passage of such legislation so close to the September 17 elections would interfere with the voting process. The attorney general is set to take part in a cabinet meeting Sunday on expediting the passage of the so-called Camera Bill, which is being championed by Netanyahu, and warn ministers against it.

“The advancement of the bill will harm the ability to properly hold election day,” Mandelblit wrote.

Criticizing the legislative effort as “aberrant and flawed,” Mandelblit warned it 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.”

Justice Hanan Melcer, chairman of the Central Elections Committee. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

Backing the opinion Melcer, who heads the Central Elections Committee, Mandelblit said the passage of the law just before election day would not leave sufficient time to explain to voters the changes or to properly prepare election officials.

“The expected result is uncertainty, irregularities, deterrence of voters and problems with managing the voting and registering the votes,” the attorney general said.

Nevertheless, Mandelblit  said there would be nothing to stop lawmakers passing the law in the next Knesset under the normal legislative process.

Despite the opposition of Mandelblit and Melcer, Netanyahu has vowed to pass legislation that would allow poll watchers from competing political parties to bring cameras into polling stations during the upcoming elections.

The legislation was advanced after the Central Elections Committee late last month banned political parties from arming polling station representatives with cameras during the elections, saying the law did not enable such practices.

But passage of the bill in time to enact it on September 17 is viewed as unlikely by commentators. And even if it passes, the government will likely find it difficult to defend a law that the attorney general vehemently opposes if and when petitions are filed against it at the High Court of Justice.

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)

During the April 9 elections, Netanyahu’s Likud party equipped some 1,200 polling officials working at ballot stations in Arab population centers with hidden body cameras to prevent what the party claims is rampant fraud in the community.

Critics have charged that Likud’s efforts were a form of voter intimidation designed to keep the minority from the polls, a claim seemingly corroborated by statements from the company contracted by Likud to carry out the operation, public relations firm Kaizler Inbar.

Also Friday, the Labor-Gesher electoral alliance said it would dispatch activists on election day to prevent Likud from bringing cameras into polling stations.

“Faced with Netanyahu’s thugs, the Labor Party has begun enlisting thousands of volunteers from the kibbutz movement and veterans of combat units to stand at polling places on election day in the Arab and Druze communities and to hold back Bibi’s thugs,” the parties were quoted saying by Channel 12 news.

Earlier in the day, Netanyahu claimed that “only someone who wants to steal the election would oppose the placement of cameras.”

Likud asserted this week that without fraudulent votes, one of the country’s Arab parties, Ra’am-Balad, would not have passed the minimum threshold of 3.25 percent of the vote for entry into the Knesset, equivalent to four seats in parliament. It is now warning the same will happen again if cameras at polling stations are not permitted.

The party’s claims are dubious and have not been substantiated by evidence. A senior Likud official speaking to the Haaretz newspaper anonymously said the claims of a stolen election were “merely speculation. This isn’t a scenario anyone thinks has much basis.”

Likud was unable to form a ruling majority in negotiations after the last election, being only able to muster a total of 60 seats with coalition partners, one short of the majority it needed in the 120-seat Knesset. Netanyahu then dissolved parliament and called fresh elections.

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