Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has vowed to continue pushing forward legislation which will allow secret cameras to be stationed in polling stations on election day, despite Attorney General Avichai Mandelblit warning that such a move would be illegal.
Mandelblit yesterday announced that draft legislation – which would allow representatives of political parties to bring cameras into polling stations, ostensibly to document suspected ballot tampering – would be in contravention of the law.
The attorney general warned such a bill would damage "both the free exercise of the democratic fundamental right to vote and the constitutional obligation to hold secret and equitable free elections in a proper and reasonable manner," adding that there was therefore "legal impediment" to passing the bill.
Netanyahu has slammed the attorney general's verdict, last night saying that he "can't understand" his stance and vowing to continue to legislate in spite of his recommendations.
"This is the only way to prevent them from stealing the elections," the prime minister said, though he did not elaborate on who was stealing the elections and from whom. It is, however, safe to presume such a claim forms part of his classic "gevalt" tactics, attempting to stoke fear among right-wing voters that "the left" and Palestinian voters are on course to win the election.
A source within the Likud party admitted this tactic to Israeli daily Haaretz, saying that "advancing the bill, even though it has no chance, is meant to keep the narrative of 'Arabs stealing the vote' in the minds of Likud voters. This will get them to go out and vote."
Netanyahu continued: "We know there is a large quantity of fake [voters], something that should be prevented. The best way to prevent this is through cameras given to observers, that won't be put behind the screen [of a voting booth] but they will protect the purity of the election."
The prime minister's Likud party will now try to pass the bill – which was drafted by Justice Minister Amir Ohana and Interior Minister Aryeh Deri, both long-time Netanyahu loyalists – through the Knesset. Whether this can be achieved in the 12 days remaining until election day on 17 September, is not yet clear.
Netanyahu has been pushing for polling stations to be monitored since Israel's last election on 9 April.
During that election, Likud activists were discovered to be wearing secret body cameras in a bid to spy on Palestinian citizens of Israel at their local voting booths. The discovery 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 detection, Netanyahu admitted that party activists had been given over 1,000 cameras to guarantee a "kosher" voting process in Palestinian towns. In addition, just a few days later it was revealed that Kaizler Inbar PR – an Israeli public relations firm with links to Israel's settlement movement – had been employed by the Likud to carry out the stunt. The firm bragged that it had forced turnout among Palestinian citizens of Israel to its lowest point in recent years.
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In July – after Netanyahu had failed to build a ruling coalition and a do-over election had been called – it emerged that the Likud would now double its budget to hide cameras in polling stations, planning to spend some two million shekels ($570,000) on the project.
Other Israeli election candidates have since expressed both support and anger at the move, depending on their political persuasion. Former Defence Minister and head of the Yisrael Beiteinu party, Avigdor Lieberman, has called for cameras to be placed in Arab-Israeli and ultra-Orthodox polling stations, saying "I very much don't trust the vote count" among his historic foes.
Members of the predominantly Arab-Israeli Joint List Ahmad Tibi and Osama Saadi meanwhile slammed Netanyahu's efforts, calling the bill a "dangerous flash legislation which harms basic rights, conducted by a temporary government and the Knesset which chose to dissolve itself".