Israel's AG Opposes Effort to Block Transport of Bedouin Voters to Polling Stations

Likud charges that the Zazim organization was working to topple the party by 'increasing the number of voters for the leftist bloc'

A Bedouin village in Israel, 2016.
Eliyahu Hershkowitz

Attorney General Avichai Mendelblit opposes issuing a restraining order against an organization that plans to transport Bedouin from unrecognized villages to the polls on Election Day.

His opinion was given to the Central Elections Committee on Wednesday in response to a petition by the ruling Likud party.

Likud’s petition was based on the News1 website’s report that the organization, Zazim – Community Action, plans to bring 15,000 voters to the polls. Zazim said that 50,000 Bedouin voters live in unrecognized villages, which have no public transportation, no paved roads and no polling station. Thus unless someone drives them, their only way to reach the polls would be by walking two hours or more in each direction.

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Likud’s petition charged that Zazim was working “to topple the Likud party government and its leader” by “increasing the number of voters for the leftist bloc.” More substantively, it argued that Zazim was doing so without having registered with the State Comptroller’s Office as an organization active in the election, which is required for organizations engaging in large-scale electoral activity.

But Mendelblit said Zazim’s planned activity wouldn’t cost more than the limit set by law – 101,700 shekels ($28,730). Therefore, it isn’t required to register with the comptroller’s office, he said.

Attorney Nili Sagi, representing Zazim, told the Central Elections Committee that Likud was trying to prevent the Bedouin “from exercising their basic democratic right to vote.” Citing its failed effort to pass legislation allowing cameras in polling stations, she added that the petition was part of a broader Likud effort “to suppress Arab citizens’ votes.”

Zazim’s director, Raluca Ganea, said the organization was “proud to stand in solidarity against efforts to suppress the vote.” She added that Zasim’s activity “is based on volunteers and small donations from Israeli activists.”

Before April’s election, Likud also petitioned unsuccessfully against Zazim. The group said it ended up driving some 4,000 Bedouin to the polls that Election Day, using 40 rented minibuses and 200 volunteer drivers.