Opinion

Court-approved License to Incite

Hanan Melcer, September 3, 2019.
Emil Salman

Five days and counting after the election, the term “electoral fraud” has already disappeared from the Israeli lexicon, together with the sentence “The Arabs stole the election.”

From such a short distance the events of the week before the election seem like a shocking episode that happened in the dark days of history. Go explain to future generations that in September 2019 Israel faced a new governmental order: Private right-wing militias, armed with cameras, were about to monitor the election. It’s chilling.

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Now, and only after the echoes of incitement have gone silent and the battle over the matter of election fraud has been decided, the chairman of the Central Election Committee, Supreme Court Justice Hanan Melcer, has come out with battle cries, too late and too lame, against the chilling accusations against the country’s Arab citizens on the matter of fraud.

“What, for example, was fake news?” Tamar Almog asked on the Kan Bet public radio program that she co-hosts with Mordechai Gilat. Melcer responded: “For example, ‘they are stealing the election’ in the previous election, which, how shall we put it, never happened. ... And I even had a petition [requesting] that I prohibit such talk and I did not grant it because I believe in freedom of speech, because it’s allowed, it’s in the legitimate realm of free speech.”

Justice Melcer did not grant the demand to stop the lie: After all, what’s so terrible about slandering an entire community — some 20 percent of the population — by accusing them of stealing the election?

I expected that after Melcer discovered that it was all a story and the “theft Arabs did not in fact steal the election, he would make a dramatic announcement that would shake the country to its foundations: Honorable Prime Minister, you are lying. You are putting the lives of some 2 million people in danger and I will not allow you to persist in this terrible act.

Really, Justice Melcer, what legitimate realm of free speech can suffer lies and incitement against the Arabs? This is not free speech, it’s freedom to incite, which was permitted, unfortunately, on account of your refusal to prohibit the fake news in real time, while it was happening.

But even when it became clear to Melcer that the supposed theft of the election “never happened,” he hastened to cooperate with the liars and established a network of 3,000 photographers to monitor the election, a measure that could be understood only as accepting the false accusations of the prime minister. After all, what is the meaning of this hasty step, to establish a unit for the purity of the election, if not total devotion to a person who is a liar, a libeler and an inciter?

Later, despite the opposition of the attorney general, Justice Melcer approved the Likud petition and prevented the nongovernmental organization Zazim from transporting Bedouin residents in the distant villages in the Negev to the polling stations. In doing so he left disadvantaged groups without any help in getting to the polls to discharge their civic duty and right. Instead of the government funding the transportation for this community, a ruling was issued to prevent good people from helping them. There is plenty of money for cameras, but not for bringing Bedouin voters to their polling places.

Remember that a week before the election we were on the verge of passing a law that would have brought the state into an era of fascist practice, in the form of groups of Likud supporters patrolling polling stations, mainly in Arab communities, with their cameras. Remember also that MK Roy Folkman of Kulanu flouted party discipline and was absent from the meeting of the Arrangements Committee, which was about to begin procedures for fast-tracking the so-called camera law, thereby torpedoing the entire idea.

Unfortunately, I cannot shower the same words of admiration for Folkman on Justice Melcer, who only after the defeat of Benjamin Netanyahu is beginning to speak, although the test is to speak in real time.