Netanyahu Says ‘Foreign Elements’ Could Exploit Coronavirus Fears to Interfere in Israeli Election

Central Elections Committee says it’s looking into the possibility of establishing polling stations for people under quarantine

Election advertising in Tel Aviv in September 2019.
Moti Milrod

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said on Sunday that "foreign elements" could use fears over the spread of the new coronavirus in Israel to affect the country's election on March 2.

Netanyahu said he would involve the Israel Police and the Shin Bet security service in the matter. “There could be all kinds of elements, including foreign elements, which could interfere in the elections this way. We have an interest in stopping this,” he said.

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Speaking at an extraordinary meeting of government officials convened Sunday to discuss the outbreak, Public Security Minister Gilad Erdan said false reports about the spread of the virus could affect voter turnout.

“There are concerns that the virus will affect voting, with elements trying to disrupt the elections,” Erdan said. “This could involve spreading fake news to affect turnout in certain areas. The police are preparing for this in order to prevent people from abusing the virus situation.”

Meanwhile, Kahol Lavan was preparing for the possibility of false reports about the discovery of the new coronavirus near polling stations in areas with high support for Benny Gantz.

Sources in Kahol Lavan say the party has drawn up plans to counter the dissemination of such reports by Likud activists that include sending text messages to supporters.

The party has also established what it calls “patrols” that could go directly to the homes of voters in order to persuade them to vote despite any false reports about the virus.

Officials at Labor-Gesher-Meretz told Haaretz they are not readying for scenarios in which local or international elements try to sabotage support for the electoral alliance based on concerns about the new coronavirus.

The Central Elections Committee said on Sunday that it was examining ways of allowing people who are in quarantine due to the virus to vote.

In an announcement, the committee noted that the Health Ministry prohibits people under quarantine from leaving their homes.

“The ministry must decide whether these people can go out and vote, and under what conditions,” the statement said.

The committee said it was looking into the possibility of establishing polling stations for people under quarantine, if they are allowed to leave their homes for this purpose. It was looking for appropriate locations as well as searching for people who would agree to serve in polling stations for voters who could be infected with the virus.