An Israeli public relations company headed by a settler leader boasted Wednesday that it was behind the Likud initiative to place 1,200 hidden cameras in Arab polling stations on Election Day. The firm added that it was to thank for the historically low turnout among Arab voters.
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Haaretz Weekly Ep. 22
"Thanks to us placing observers in every polling station we managed to lower the voter turnout to under 50 percent, the lowest in recent years!" the PR company, Kaizler Inbar, posted on Facebook.
"After a long preparation period, an amazing logistical base and deep and close partnership with the best people in Likud, we put together an operation that contributed crucially to one of the most important achievements of the right-wing bloc: Keeping the Arab vote legal!" the post went on.
Arab-majority slate Hadash-Ta’al told Haaretz that, "as soon as the cameras were discovered, there were riots and confrontations, halting the voting process at some stations." According to the slate, "the situation caused fear among many voters, who were afraid to get to the polling sites — which was the intention of Likud and the camera operators.”
Early on Election Day on Tuesday, it turned out that Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's Likud party provided activists with 1,200 hidden cameras "to monitor" Arab polling stations — a move that prompted Israel's Central Elections Committee to file a police complaint.
The PR company published a Facebook post on Wednesday along with a picture of the firm's heads with Netanyahu and his wife, Sara. In the post, the company thanked "the 1,350 field operatives, activists of all ages and types, from the south to the north, who were present at polls throughout the country, from the smallest villages to the largest Arab cities."
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MK Ayman Odeh, head of the Hadash-Ta'al slate, told Haaretz: "Now it's official – the Likud tried to lower the Arab turnout through illegal means. Hidden cameras, monitoring and voter suppression. This is what de-legitimization of a fifth of the citizenry looks like. What started out as unleashed racist incitement continued in the nation-state law and could end with a transfer government and revoking rights."
The company is headed by Sagi Kaizler, the former head of the northern West Bank residents' council. Kaizler confirmed to Haaretz that his company was behind the Likud-funded effort. In 2015, he was documented saying: "Arabs are sitting alone in the polling station, we don't trust them. We let them vote in our country even though it's our country, they should at least vote truthfully."
On Election Day in 2015, in his role as settler residents' council chief, Kaizer was behind a film showing left-wing activists as traitors who would end up hanged, using anti-Semitic stereotypes.
A right-wing source told Haaretz that "the move was aimed to preserve the integrity of the election and to assure that [Arab slate] Balad-Ra'am won’t pass the electoral threshold through falsifications."
While the turnout in Tuesday's election was 67.9 percent, the Arab communities saw a lower turnout of around 49 percent. While turnout has historically been lower in the Arab community, this election had one of the lowest recorded. While both Arab-majority slates, Hadash-Ta'al and Balad-Ra'am, were seen passing the electoral threshold as of Wednesday evening, both parties suffered a blow – down from 13 Knesset seats to a maximum of 10.
Netanyahu confirmed on Tuesday that Likud was behind the hidden cameras, saying there should be cameras everywhere in order to ensure a "kosher" voting process. However, the cameras, some of which were confiscated by police, were placed only in Arab communities.
After the presence of the cameras, worn by right-wing operatives, were found, Arab parties filed urgent complaints and the Central Elections Committee said filming in polling sites was prohibited, allowing audio recording if a genuine concern emerges that the integrity of the election is in danger.