Peeping Likudniks: 6 things to know for September 9
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Peeping Likudniks: 6 things to know for September 9

The camera bill looks to be dead; some sigh in relief, but pundits still see plenty of danger ahead for either Netanyahu or the fate of Israeli democracy

A creep taking pictures from behind bushes. (MarinaZg/Istock by Getty Images)
A creep taking pictures from behind bushes. (MarinaZg/Istock by Getty Images)

1. Kill bill: As expected, the cabinet approved a law allowing parties to place cameras in polling stations, moving the issue to the Knesset, and as expected, the move has sparked a storm of controversy, handwringing and predictions of doom.

  • Despite the controversy, the bill was expected to sail through the Knesset when it came up for a vote in the coming days. While acknowledging that the legislation is a campaign ploy of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s Likud, the heads of the right-wing Yamina and Yisrael Beytenu parties announced they would still support the proposal.
  • Or at least so everyone thought. On Monday morning, Yisrael Beytenu head Avigdor Liberman pulls a 180, throwing the whole vote into turmoil.
  • “Liberman won’t support, the cameras bill will not pass,” Channel 12 news reports succinctly, discounting the possibility of another flip-flop from the candidate who once ran under the slogan “my word is my word.”
  • Indeed, hours later, the bill fails to pass out of committee in the Knesset after a tie vote, with Yisrael Beytenu voting against, seemingly killing any chance it had of being enacted before next week’s vote. “Drama in the committee,” Kan radio crows.
  • Even if it did somehow squeeze through, the bill would have still faced significant legal problems, leading the attorney general to dub it an “unlawful law,” oxymoronic verbiage that highlights opposition to the bill and is unique enough that it appears prominently in the press.
  • Not that ministers cared, much.
  • “The government humiliated the institution of the attorney general and the election committee by refusing to accept their recommendation not to ram through the camera law,” Yedioth writes.

2. Lies and videotape: Avichai Mandelblit is only the tip of the iceberg of those against the proposal, which receives widespread jeers in the media. But the death of the proposal does not mean critics have nothing to complain about. If anything, many predict that this will give Likud an opening to challenge the legitimacy of the vote by saying it was not allowed to record supposed rampant fraud.

  • “A gun has been aimed at Israeli democracy’s head: If it doesn’t bow to this caprice, we’ll kill it. For democracy can suffer no more certain death than denial of the election results,” writes Mordechai Kreminitzer in Haaretz.
  • Even Likud-supporting Israel Hayom gives column inches (and a front page refer) to a column by Yossi Beilin slamming the bid to pass the law.
  • “One gets the feeling that the prime minister’s real goal isn’t keeping the elections fraud free, but perhaps he has another agenda,” he writes.
  • In Walla, Amir Oren says Netanyahu knows the actual law will not be enacted, given the time needed between passage of a law and it actually going into effect, but is instead happy to distract attention from other issues.
  • “Every day that media coverage is focused on cameras and not the corruption of the Netanyahu couple, including his wife’s gift-mania, is a net gain for the Likud head.”

3. What dangers may come: Nonetheless, there are still plenty of dire warnings, plus a guide in Yedioth to how the law would work.

  • “According to the proposal… at any time there can be several people filming at once,” the paper writes. “Any voter or person accompanying a voter can be filmed from the moment they enter until the moment they leave except while they are behind the curtain.”
  • Noting that the filming could include capturing conversations next to polling stations, Haaretz reports that parties, who can keep the footage and are not bound by any oversight, may end up using it for canvassing purposes.
  • “The scope of the filming that the bill would permit includes the voters themselves, the verification of their identities, the opening of the box in which voters place their ballot (which is in a sealed envelope) and the counting of the ballots,” the paper reports. “The information gathered by the parties would not be deemed a database subject to certain privacy protections under current law.”
  • Central Election Committee director Orly Adas tells Channel 12 that allowing hundreds of biased party officials to film whenever they deem necessary will almost certainly lead to brawls in polling stations.
  • Raviv Drucker also warns that the cameras could make the whole process more ornery.
  • “If the election is close, the law will cause fighting between factions at the polling booths, and could create a situation in which there are no clear rules on which polling boxes need to be disqualified,” he writes in a column for Channel 13.

4. Cowed by cameras? Critics charge that if cameras are allowed, they will create a chilling effect and further dampen already low turnout numbers among Arab Israelis.

  • But Army Radio reports that a survey by the Stat-Net research institute found that few Arabs are actually being disenfranchised by the filming. According to the report, 90 percent say the cameras have no effect on their plans to vote or not, and another 7 percent say the law makes them want to stay away from the polling booth, but they will vote anyway.
  • In Israel Hayom, activist Yussef Hadad writes that Arab Israelis should be more happy about the cameras than anyone else. “We, who scream about the state ignoring the crime and violence running rampant in our streets, who complain about brawls and pitched battles occurring regularly, should be the ones supporting a procedure meant to increase security and stop crime. We suffer from stereotypes and harsh accusations, and so if there really is widespread fraud, the time has come to halt it, and if the accusations are false, then there’s nothing to worry about and why would we not want to show it. It’s a win-win.”
  • Haaretz’s Odeh Bisharat writes that he also won’t let the cameras block his bid to oust Netanyahu.
  • “Despite the dangers behind what Netanyahu is doing, we should see his behavior as the death throes of his political career. The road to his political end has already been paved; all he needs is a single push. And then it will be as if he never was prime minister and never embittered our lives with unbridled incitement for a quarter of a century. Consequently, I won’t allow Netanyahu to disrupt my plans,” he writes.

5. The democracy drag: On Monday, Likud stalwart Benny Begin, whose father basically founded the party, says he will not vote Likud out of unhappiness over the whole camera saga and the way Netanyahu is handling things.

  • Begin is not alone, and officials and others are also worried that the elections will have lower turnout than Israel has seen in a while.
  • ToI editor David Horovitz writes that he has “had countless people tell me in recent days they’re so sick of the whole business that they won’t be voting; I have no way of knowing which party they won’t be voting for.”
  • “Netanyahu would have us believe that Israel would be lost without him. His opponents argue that, with him, we are losing Israel. That is what next week’s elections are all about,” he writes.
  • Yedioth’s Hen Artzi-Srour also writes about voter apathy, or rather “disgust.” “Like a battered girlfriend, we’ve gotten used to it. Used to the stupid idea that we need to go back to the voting booth because the stars have not aligned.”

6. Be better (at emulating Trump): The Associated Press’s Joe Federman writes that Americans are already pretty familiar with Netanyahu’s ploy of calling the results into question, which he describes as taking a play out of US President Donald Trump’s playbook.

  • “With his career on the line, Netanyahu has embraced the tactics of Trump, a good friend and political ally. Netanyahu routinely lashes out at the media, the judiciary, the police, the country’s Arab minority and his political opponents, claiming that there is a conspiracy of “elites” trying to oust him,” he writes.
  • Haaretz’s Chemi Shalev says that Netanyahu is actually taking it one step further: “The ‘election fraud’ canard may have been conceived, developed and put through experimental trials at the White House, but it is Netanyahu who has now deployed the stink bomb under actual combat conditions.”
  • Trump himself, meanwhile, has been mostly absent from the campaign, a stark shift after he was seen as feting Netanyahu with diplomatic wins to help him at the polls, ToI’s Raphael Ahren writes.
  • “So far, Trump has not only done nothing extraordinary to help the Israeli premier, he has actually made his life more difficult,” he writes, referring to his possible talks with Iran and his push for him to ban congresswomen Rashida Tlaib and Omar Ilhan.
  • “It’s possible that they’re just waiting for a dramatic gesture in the final phase,” former US Ambassador Dan Shapiro says. “But it’s also possible that Trump, who likes to associate himself with winners, feels uncertain about the outcome of the elections and wouldn’t want to be heavily associated with a candidate who is not successful.”
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