This past Election Day, yet another red line was crossed as part of the anti-democratic effort to exclude Arab citizens from the Knesset, when the ruling Likud party brought roughly 1,200 cameras and recording devices into polling stations in Arab towns. The goal, according to the organizers – one of whom formerly headed the settlers’ Samaria Residents Council – was “to supervise the integrity of the election” in the Arab community.
The discovery of the cameras, which occurred when the voting was already in full swing, led to uproars and clashes at the polling stations. According to members of the Hadash-Ta’al party, it even infringed on the secrecy of the democratic process and made many voters afraid to vote. The police initially confiscated the cameras, but later returned them due to a decision by the chairman of the Central Elections Committee, Justice Hanan Melcer, who sought to avoid disrupting the election.
Thus on one hand, Melcer forbade the use of cameras and ordered them warehoused outside the polling booths. But on the other hand, he permitted recordings in cases that raised “suspicions of a substantive infringement on the integrity of the elections or their orderly conduct,” such as incidents of bribery or violence. Nevertheless, Melcer also said, “If a complaint is filed on the issue, the cameras will be given to the police to hold until after Election Day.”
On Monday, MK Aida Touma-Sliman (Hadash-Ta’al) and Adalah – the Legal Center for Arab Minority Rights in Israel asked Attorney General Avichai Mendelblit to order the police to collect all the cameras, along with any footage or recordings made with them, and open an investigation into Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, Likud and the Kaizler Inbar public relations firm, which boasted on Facebook of its responsibility for the operation. The purpose would be to investigate whether the use of the cameras by Likud polling booth officials violated the elections law and the Privacy Protection Act.
Their demand for an investigation is justified, as is their demand that the cameras and recordings be turned over to the police, in line with Melcer’s own ruling.
Mendelblit must accede to the demands of these public representatives and order the collection of the cameras and the investigation. In the 2015 election, the prime minister spurred his electorate to vote by scaring them with Arabs who were “going to the polls in droves.” During the latest campaign, Netanyahu had no qualms about portraying the Arab parties as working to harm the state and supporting terror, nor did he hesitate to brand any political cooperation with them as illegitimate.
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The significance of cameras being brought into polling stations is that the situation has moved beyond inflammatory words to dangerous and possibly illegal action. The ruling party can’t operate a policing system against minorities in Israel on its own say-so. This is a moment of truth for all of the country’s mechanisms of justice, which must at least examine these complaints.
The above article is Haaretz’s lead editorial, as published in the Hebrew and English newspapers in Israel.