Quoting Netanyahu, challenger Sa’ar demands cameras in primary polling stations

‘Only those who want to steal elections are opposed to placing cameras,’ PM had said ahead of September vote, but Likud officials have rejected using them for leadership vote

Likud lawmaker Gideon Sa'ar visits the West Bank area known as E1 near the Jewish settlement of Ma'ale Adumim, on December 10, 2019. (Hadas Parush/Flash90)
Likud lawmaker Gideon Sa'ar visits the West Bank area known as E1 near the Jewish settlement of Ma'ale Adumim, on December 10, 2019. (Hadas Parush/Flash90)

Likud lawmaker Gideon Sa’ar, who is challenging Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu for the party leadership in a December 26 primary, demanded Tuesday that cameras be placed at voting stations to prevent voter fraud.

Sa’ar appealed to the party’s internal court, asking that it order the installation of cameras, after Likud officials, in the form of the party’s internal elections committee, rejected his request a day earlier to record the voting and counting process with video cameras.

In his appeal, Sa’ar noted that Netanyahu himself had led the party’s charge ahead of the September 17 national elections to have such cameras placed in all voting stations nationwide, arguing it was necessary to prevent fraud, especially in Arab towns.

Critics described that campaign as a transparent attempt to depress voter turnout in Arab communities.

During April’s national elections, Likud polling station observers brought hidden bodycams into 1,200 stations in Arab areas. The political marketing firm that masterminded the operation then boasted on Facebook that the move had helped depress Arab turnout, which had indeed declined in the April race. Likud itself denied that was the reason for the cameras, and the firm quickly deleted the post.

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)

The Knesset’s Central Elections Committee, charged by law with managing Israel’s parliamentary elections, barred Likud from taking similar action in the September election, leading Netanyahu to attempt unsuccessfully to push a bill through the Knesset that would allow party observers to bring cameras into polling stations.

The effort was widely perceived as part of Likud’s campaign strategy targeting right-wing fears of Arab influence, with Netanyahu warning throughout the campaigns ahead of the April and September votes that anti-Zionist Arab political factions were poised, through their purported influence over Netanyahu’s rival Benny Gantz, to gain control of Israel’s government.

The campaign appeared to backfire, though, according to analysts and Arab leaders. Overall Arab turnout rose sharply between April and September, by almost one-fifth, to 59.1% of the community’s eligible voters, a figure still 10 points short of the 69% overall turnout. The percentage of Arab voters who voted for Arab-majority parties also rose, from an estimated 71% in April to 81% in September — though some argued this was due to the Arab factions’ decision to join together in a single Knesset slate between the two votes.

Sa’ar’s Tuesday appeal draws its inspiration from that Likud campaign, arguing that the installation of cameras in Likud primary voting stations would help ensure “fair, clean and democratic elections, while protecting the right to a secret ballot.” No filming would take place inside the voting booth, the appeal assured.

PM Benjamin Netanyahu at an event opening the Brazilian Trade and Investment Promotion Agency in Jerusalem, December 15, 2019. (Hadas Parush/Flash90)

Sa’ar’s petition went on to quote Netanyahu himself making the case for cameras.

“Only those who want to steal elections are opposed to placing cameras” in polling stations, Netanyahu said on September 6 as he pushed legislation to permit their use. He’d declared a day earlier: “There are cameras in every supermarket and health clinic. We want them in polling stations too.”

And two days later, on September 8, Netanyahu said: “I understand why [Blue and White leaders Yair] Lapid and Gantz and [Yisrael Beytenu chief Avigdor] Liberman agree with the Arab Joint List against using cameras to supervise the voting stations — to allow for fraud and to steal the election.”

All those quotes were cited in the appeal, which also pointed to the short timetable — just nine days remain to the primary vote — in asking the court to issue its response promptly.

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