Don’t Give Them Cameras

Cameras installed by activists near Arab polling stations.
Hadash Spokesperson's Office

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is insisting on getting a government bill passed quickly, before the elections, that enables party representatives serving as observers at voting stations to carry cameras and document what goes on there.

Netanyahu and his friends in the coalition continue to advance the bill despite the objections of Attorney General Avichai Mendelblit and Central Elections Committee chairman Justice Hanan Melcer. “Legislation on the arrangement being proposed a week before the elections will disrupt the elections and may even bring chaos,” Mendelblit wrote in his opinion. On Sunday, Mendelblit is scheduled to attend the cabinet meeting, where the cabinet is supposed to approve the proposal, in order to voice his objection.

This is a new level in the war of government branches that Netanyahu has been waging over the past few years. His war has focused on two fronts: The judicial branch, including the “gatekeepers,” and the independent media. Now it appears that he has opened a new front against the legislative branch. Netanyahu is undermining the necessary conditions for democratic elections: That they be general and fair (“The Arabs are flocking to the polling stations in droves”), that they be regular (He’s gotten into the habit of moving up the date of elections and dismantling the Knesset in keeping with his needs) and now he’s threatening to harm the secret and free nature of the elections.

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Netanyahu has incited against Arab citizens and leveled false accusations against them: “We’ll keep working on legislation to station cameras at voting stations; we won’t let the election be stolen.” He’s circulated fake news, stating that if vote fraud had been prevented in April, Balad would not have made it into the Knesset and the right-wing bloc would have 61 Knesset seats. An investigation of this claim being made by Netanyahu and his Likud party showed that this is baseless speculation.

A Haaretz investigation revealed irregularities at dozens of voting stations in April, including questionable deals and arrangements between party observers at the stations. There definitely is space to ensure the elections are free and fair. And yet, Melcer proposed a proportionate response. He suggested photographing the vote counting process, but that this be done not by the parties but by representatives of the Central Elections Committee; he suggested documenting irregularities and suspected fraud but again, only after receiving permission from the committee. Melcer’s proposal would allow for ensuring that the election is free and fair but not harm secrecy.

Netanyahu and the nationalist, right-wing coalition he leads are undermining the legitimacy of the Arab vote. They’re interested in arming their polling station representatives with cameras in order to deter Arab voters, and to essentially create party-run enforcement bodies. They’re not interested in pure elections, but rather the purity of voters’ ethnicity. Mendelblit needs to halt the camera bill, and Melcer’s proposal should be adopted.