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Likud to spend $0.5m spying on Arab-Israeli polling stations

A man casts his vote during the Israeli general elections in Tel Aviv on 9 April 2019 [Faiz Abu Rmeleh/Anadolu Agency]
A man casts his vote during the Israeli general elections in Tel Aviv on 9 April 2019 [Faiz Abu Rmeleh/Anadolu Agency]

Israel’s ruling Likud party plans to spend two million shekels ($570,000) on placing surveillance cameras in Arab-Israeli polling stations during the 17 September election.

During Israel’s April election, Likud activists were discovered to be wearing secret body cameras in a bid to spy on Palestinian citizens of Israel at their local polling stations. The discovery of the cameras was met with anger by Arab-Israeli voters and their political parties, and was widely blamed for contributing to low voter turnout among the community.

Shortly after their discovery, Likud head Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu admitted that party activists had been given over 1,000 cameras to guarantee a “kosher” voting process in Palestinian towns.

A few days later, Kaizler Inbar PR – an Israeli public relations firm with links to Israel’s settlement movement – revealed that it had been employed by Likud to carry out the stunt, bragging that it had forced turnout among Palestinian citizens of Israel to its lowest point in recent years.

Now the Likud party plans to double its budget for a repeat campaign, spending two million shekels on installing cameras in Palestinian polling stations, a “source with knowledge of the operation” told the Times of Israel today. The campaign will once again be led by Kaizler Inbar and will also see an increased police presence to monitor Arab-Israeli voters.

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Israel’s Central Election Committee – which oversees Israel’s election process – will reportedly meet later this week to discuss Likud’s programme. The Israeli daily reported that the Likud party will ask Supreme Court Judge and head of the committee, Hanan Melcer, to “detail in writing what their poll watchers can and cannot do with the surveillance cameras”.

Melcer was previously critical of the policy, filing a complaint to the Israel Police following the discovery of the cameras in the last election. Hadash-Ta’al, one of the two predominantly Arab-Israeli slates which ran in April, also filed a complaint with the committee to demand the policy be stopped.

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Opposition parties have slammed the revelation that Likud once again plans to use the cameras to intimidate Palestinian citizens of Israel wishing to vote.

Former Meretz leader and now party number two, Tamar Zandberg, filed a request to the Central Election Committee asking Melcer to intervene, saying: “It is clear to everyone that this is a voter suppression project by the ruling party targeting a public whose turnout rate it views as a major political threat.”

Low voter turnout threatens to limit the performance of the Arab-Israeli parties once again in September, with the four factions this week resurrecting the Joint List in a bid to inspire voters to head to the polls.

MEMO reached out to Joint List politicians for comment, with Knesset Member (MK) Yousef Jabareen slamming the revelations as “another racist act by the governing Likud party against the Arab Palestinian community in Israel, with the goal of keeping Arab voters far from the ballots in September, denying them basic right of voting.”

He continued: “In April, the cameras provoked a lot of tension around the ballots and disrupted our plans to bring more voters [to the polls]. It seems that the Likud is ready to do everything in order to bring the turnout in our community to a new low record. We consider this act to be illegal and we will do our best to stop the Likud from implementing it.”

“They will be disappointed to realise that our unity in the Joint List will defeat all their racist and anti-democratic plans,” he added.

While the party’s only Jewish candidate Ofer Cassif said: “Even if we accepted that installing cameras is a legitimate way to prevent electoral frauds, we still had to insist that it was not the role of the ruling party to install them but of some state apparatuses institutionalised by law.”

Adding: “As far as the Israeli establishment is concerned (primarily the government), it’s clear that the real goal is to terrorise the Arab electorate and preventing them from casting their vote.”

The announcement of a do-over election has given the Joint List factions a second chance to improve on April’s performance. However, weeks of political infighting over the placement of candidates on the slate has left the alliance with little over six weeks to begin campaigning before 17 September.

READ: Ehud Barak, Meretz and Labor’s Stav Shaffir announce joint election run

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