Fact Check: Netanyahu's Fake News on Arab Voter Fraud

Unsubstantiated speculation that voting fraud in April election allowed Balad to pass electoral threshold - and prevented right-wing bloc from having 61 Knesset seats - has been shared hundreds of times on social media

A polling station in Rosh Ha'ayin, Israel, April 9, 2019.
Moti Milrod

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said Tuesday that If not for a voting fraud in the April Knesset election, the Arab party Balad would not have passed the election threshold and the right-wing bloc would have had 61 Knesset seats, despite the claim being unsubstantiated. (For the latest election polls – click here)

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The claim that the April election was “stolen” from him was made in a tweet from his Likud party’s official Twitter account that Netanyahu retweeted.

It is unsubstantiated speculation that has been shared hundreds of times on social media.

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The Likud claim is based on a hearing in the Jerusalem District Court Tuesday of a petition by Amit Halevi, No. 36 on the Likud Knesset slate in April, who claimed his rightful place in the Knesset had been stolen due to mistakes and fraud in the vote count.

The prosecutor told the court that the police were investigating allegations of fraud in 29 polling stations defined as suspicious by the Central Election Committee and examining 107 additional stations in the wake of a request by Knesset member David Bitan, the Likud representative on the committee. Likud believes the disqualification of the suspect polling stations, almost all of which are in Arab communities, would have helped Likud and the right-wing bloc.

A senior law enforcement official said Tuesday six investigations of polling station fraud in the April election were underway and that evidence of fraud was emerging in at least one of them.

After the hearing Likud said in a statement that “The feeling cannot be ignored that the election is being stolen from us. Today it turned out that if fraud had been prevented, Balad would not have passed the electoral threshold.”

It should be noted that Balad did not run on its own, but rather on a joint ticket together with the United Arab List, which was not mentioned in the tweet.

The Likud claim that mass disqualification of polling stations in Arab communities would have hurt the left-wing bloc and helped the right wing is not entirely disconnected from reality, but neither does it have any evidentiary basis. “This is only speculation. This is not a scenario that anyone thinks has any basis,” a senior Likud figure admitted to Haaretz on Tuesday.

“What is certain is that the Likud got no votes in the Arab polling stations, so Likud would not have lost by the disqualification of these stations, only gained,” he added.

Moreover, by law if a polling station is disqualified another vote must be held, so even if there were fraud, the extent of its impact on the election is unclear.

Likud also tweeted Tuesday that the decision by the Central Election Committee not to allow cameras in polling stations was “adding insult to injury,” and that it “would once again allow the election to be stolen.”

Attorney General Avichai Mendelblit criticized Tuesday the government bill that would allow political parties to place cameras in polling stations, which Likud is trying to get passed before the election. Mendelblit believes that the bill could discourage disadvantaged populations from voting, make it easier for political activists to document what happens behind the barrier that shields the voter from view, and lead to problems in managing the voting properly.

In a letter to Justice Minister Amir Ohana and Interior Minister Arye Dery, who are promoting the bill, Mendelblit wrote that it “raises serious legal difficulties.”

The letter relates only to the government bill and doesn’t express an opinion on the one-time arrangement expected to be conducted by the Central Elections Committee. On Election Day, September 17, the committee is expected to operate an “elections integrity” unit, in which official – and not political – representatives will be allowed under certain circumstances to document problematic incidents and the vote count at the polling stations.

The Likud bill was released earlier this week for public comment in an expedited procedure, ahead of a vote on it by the cabinet Sunday. If it advances, there will be an unusual procedure, including the establishment of a special Knesset committee that will facilitate the bill’s passage in three readings by next Thursday, which would allow it be in effect before Election Day.

“The fact that voters will only become aware of the precedent-setting arrangement in the last days before the election, one that alters arrangements that existed since the state was established, may create heightened uncertainty and concerns about violating electoral secrecy, even in the narrow sense,” the attorney general wrote. He added that “Those who are likely to be harmed and deterred by the voting process will be voters from disadvantaged groups.”