Israeli President Delivers Rare Rebuke After Netanyahu Gov't Approves Cameras in Ballots

Jonathan Lis
Jonathan Lis
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Netanyahu and Rivlin at a memorial for assassinated Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin in Jerusalem, April 3, 2019
Netanyahu and Rivlin at a memorial for assassinated Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin in Jerusalem, April 3, 2019Credit: Marc Israel-Salem
Jonathan Lis
Jonathan Lis

The Israeli cabinet on Sunday approved a bill which would allow election supervisors appointed by political parties to film voters in ballots during Election Day on September 17. (For the latest election polls – click here)

Haaretz Weekly Ep. 39

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The legislation was drafted by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's Likud party, claiming that the last election was "stolen" due to fraudulent activity in Arab communities. It will now have to be passed into law in three Knesset votes. Parliament will convene for the first of them on Monday.

The bill has met the resistance of Attorney General Avichai Mendelblit, who last week warned it would not withstand legal scrutiny, and could lead to chaos. Mendelblit attended the meeting, voicing his opposition once again.

>> Read more: Netanyahu alleged massive Arab voter fraud. Police found one case - in favor of Likud ■ Let Israeli Political Parties Film in Polling Stations | Opinion

Despite supporting the need for a debate on electoral scrutiny, President Reuven Rivlin called for attacks on the judiciary to stop.

"There is a proper place to discuss the [ways we monitor our electoral process], and how it should adapt to the reality we live in. We, as a democratic society, must have these discussions," Rivlin said, adding that it was improper to hold such a discussion several days before Israelis set out to vote.

"I humbly request efforts to discredit the bodies working to monitor the upcoming election to cease", the president went on. "I fully support the actions of the Central Elections Committee, and express my full confidence in Justice Hanan Melcer and Attorney General Avichai Mendelblit."

"There is no room for attacks [on these institutions]. If we condone them, even only by remaining silent, where does that lead us?" the statement added.

The Central Elections Committee issued a statement following the cabinet action saying that "maintaining the integrity of the election, its fairness and proper conduct on Election Day are its prime concern."

The election committee developed a plan that includes the deployment of 3,000 inspectors, some of whom are lawyers or accountants, who will be equipped with body cameras. The plan calls for the inspectors to tour all of the country's polling stations on Election Day and, with the approval of the Central Elections Committee, to film any instances in which there is concern about improprieties.

"Everyone films," Netanyahu said at the cabinet meeting. "It's all in [Instagram] stories. Any shop is filmed by cameras, so the polling stations are the only ones you can't film?" According to Netanyahu, the bill will "ensure the upcoming election will be clean, supervised and precise, just like the citizens of Israel expect from us."

At the meeting's outset, Tourism Minister Yariv Levin said, "We respect the Attorney General's position, but he doesn't come in place of the government."

"Those opposing the law raise questions as to why they would like to see election fraud," Education Minister Rabbi Rafi Peretz tweeted after the meeting ended. "One of the foundations of democracy is the integrity of the electoral process. There is no reason why the law should not be enacted."

Mendelblit said the legal issue raised by the bill is the result of its timing and the unusual process through which it was advanced. He quoted the stance of Justice Hanan Melcer, who chairs the Central Election Committee, saying: "This legislation, proffered a week before the election, would disrupt its operation and might, by a high probability, lead to chaos."

Kahol Lavan leader Benny Gantz criticized the bill, saying that "whoever undermines the most basic democratic procedure is unfit to lead the country." Gantz added that Netanyahu seeks to harm the legitimacy of the election results, "and is preparing the ground for chaos on Election Day and the days that follow."

Labor Party leader Amir Peretz, for his part, said he would seek to petition the high court to have the law struck down should it pass the three readings necessary to make it into law. "Labor-Gesher pledges to place hundreds of activists [at polling stations] to prevent Bibi's photographers from interfering with citizens' exercise of their democratic right," the freshly barelipped left-winger tweeted.

But Joint List Chairman Ayman Odeh argued the debate itself was political manipulation to "trigger a panic vote on the right and suppress the Arab vote."

"They don't even want to pass the law -- they want it to be blocked," the Hadash faction leader wrote on Twitter. "[Netanyahu] is preparing the ground for the day he declares, "Arabs have stolen the elections!" And contests the results if he loses."