Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu requested an emergency meeting with the head of the Central Elections Committee, Supreme Court Justice Hanan Melcer, on Saturday to address what he claimed was a concern of rampant voter fraud in next week’s election, in a move slammed by opposition politicians as an attempt to “incite and divide.”
Hebrew media quoted Netanyahu’s Likud party as saying the request was “in order to ensure that there won’t be any additional election theft in these elections.”
The request came a day after a report in the Maariv daily alleged that police contacted only two out of 82 election officials who reported irregularities at their voting stations during elections in April.
Likud has recently asserted that Ra’am-Balad, an alliance of two Arab parties, only cleared the electoral threshold in elections earlier this year due to fraudulent votes. The ruling party claims that due to alleged voter fraud, Netanyahu’s right-wing bloc was deprived of a majority of seats in the 120-member Knesset, leading to a fresh round of elections on September 17.
The party’s claim has not been substantiated by evidence and a police investigation into voter fraud has found only minimal tampering and that any such abuse likely benefited Likud itself or the ultra-Orthodox Shas party, rather than the Arab Israeli factions.
Furthermore, police only found sufficient evidence to justify a criminal investigation at one of 140 polling stations flagged by Likud for alleged fraudulent activity by Israel’s Arab minority, the Kan public broadcaster reported last week.
“A disgrace,” Labor Party leader Amir Peretz said of the premier’s request for an emergency meeting. “What interests Netanyahu is a few polling stations that didn’t change in anything, in order to incite and divide.”
Blue and White MK Karin Elharrar said that Netanyahu’s request was out of line.
“The Central Elections Committee chairman is an official of the state who decides fairly for all parties. Netanyahu can’t exploit his position to summon Judge [Hanan] Melcer,” Elharrar tweeted.
Meanwhile, the Democratic Camp, an alliance of left-wing parties, said it was Likud that should be under scrutiny.
“Likud are the main suspects in the fraud attempts in the elections four months ago. Kahanist thugs and Netanyahu are threatening to violently sabotage the elections,” it tweeted, referring to the extremist Otzma Yehudit party.
The request came just days after a Likud-backed bill to allow political parties to bring recording devices into voting stations failed to clear its first reading in the Knesset.
Likud sought to pass the legislation before the September 17 vote despite opposition from Melcer, the attorney general and the Knesset’s legal adviser, arguing it was necessary to prevent voter fraud on election day.
In April’s elections, Likud equipped some 1,200 polling officials working at ballot stations in Arab population centers with hidden body cameras to prevent what the party claimed was unchecked fraud in the community. The election committee has since banned their use.
Netanyahu accused opponents of the bill of wanting to “steal” the elections. They hit back, saying that the prime minister was pushing the legislation to sow doubt about the validity of the final election results in case he again comes up short of a majority.
Some analysts have seen Likud’s claims that rival parties are trying to steal the elections as a ploy to shore up backing among right-wing voters and have likened it to Netanyahu’s comments on election day in 2015 that “Arab voters are coming in droves to the polls,” remarks he later apologized for.