“Thanks to the fact that there were observers on our behalf at every polling station, voter turnout decreased from 50 percent to the lowest percentage we have seen in recent years.” That’s the boast made by a public relations firm that linked up with the country’s ruling Likud party to deploy people on Election Day, equipped with cameras and recording equipment at more than 1,000 polling stations in Arab communities. They claim that their intention was to monitor “virtue” in Arab society, but the person responsible for the operation, Sagi Kaizler, a former head of the Samaria West Bank settlers’ council, admitted that the real aim was political – reducing the strength of Arab parties in the Knesset.
On Election Day in 2015, Kaizler, who was also behind a video that depicted left-wing activists as traitors who end up being hanged to death, had recruited Jewish observers to represent right-wing parties at polling stations in Arab communities. “Arabs sit alone at the polling station. We don’t trust them. We let them vote in our country. Unfortunately that’s the situation at the moment, but they should at least submit genuine votes,” he stated at the time. This time around the police confiscated Kaizler’s cameras and Justice Hanan Melcer banned their use, but in response to the claim that the group was fighting alleged vote fraud, he allowed the use of audio recordings in instances in which there was “suspected substantive harm to the integrity of the election.”
The Likud party’s deployment via Kaizler of a presence at polling stations where Arab Israeli citizens, 20% of the country’s population, cast their ballots is a means of intimidation and policing on the part of the ruling party against the Arab public – a direct continuation of the delegitimization of Israeli Arabs by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and his supporters – this time in the field. If vote fraud is suspected, the Central Elections Committee is entitled to see to it ahead of time who should be allowed to conduct monitoring, and how. The party in power should not be permitted to deploy its people without any approval or oversight and intimidate an entire segment of society. That also constitutes a suspected criminal violation of the Knesset Elections Law (Amendment 6), which stipulates that whoever “disrupts the orderly conduct of elections” is subject to imprisonment.
Justice Melcer sought to carry on with Election Day and avoid confrontations, but now this needs to be investigated so that conclusions can be drawn for future elections. Every Arab citizen must be able to show up at a polling station without fear of being the subject of a recording by the authorities. The broad participation of Arabs in elections is vital to underpin democracy.
The above article is Haaretz’s lead editorial, as published in the Hebrew and English newspapers in Israel.