A few Likud activists were caught Tuesday morning as the polls opened in Israel, carrying hidden cameras (one was disguised as a pen) into poll stations in Palestinian towns. An unofficial Likud statement later said Likud deployed 1,300 such cameras in Palestinian poll stations; this number is so far unconfirmed. Netanyahu himself acknowledged the deployment of cameras, claiming they’re supposed to “keep the voting process kosher.”
The Israeli public relations firm Kaizler Inbar claimed credit for dispatching 1350 volunteers with cameras in a post on Facebook today, stating they pleaded “guilty” to suppressing Arab voter turnout and alluded to coordinating with the Likud party.
“Thanks to us placing observers in every polling station we managed to lower the voter turnout to under 50 percent, the lowest in recent years!” the post said, “After a long preparation period, an amazing logistical base and deep and close partnership with the best people in Likud, we put together an operation that contributed crucially to one of the most important achievements of the right-wing bloc: Keeping the Arab vote legal!”
Israeli voting is supposed to be secret and personal. The secret ballot is supposed to make certain that nobody will know how a person votes. Naturally, spying cameras in polling stations are illegal, and the Israel’s Central Elections Committee ordered Likud to stop using the cameras forthwith. As Likud has been disregarding various instructions of the elections board, it remains an open question if they will obey this injunction. Prior violations by Likud included taking pictures Netanyahu in his official residence with Likud propaganda in the background, and using photos of Netanyahu with soldiers.
Left-wing NGO Ha’Block Ha’Democrati (The Democratic Bloc) noted yesterday that a settler non-profit which is often used for dirty tricks, the Samaria Settler Committee, fundraised for “a war against electoral fraud in the Arab sector” in September 2018. The head of the group, Tzachi Dieckstein, actually ran as a Likud candidate on Tuesday. He is also the vice president of Ad Kan, a right-wing group that is most famous for funding a long-term spying and infiltration campaign against human rights organizations, among them Breaking the Silence, Ta’ayush, and B’Tselem. The infiltrators used hidden cameras carried on-body. It’s not clear yet whether Likud and the settler group were coordinating on spying on the polls; the few activists detained yesterday morning, however, were settlers.
The spying on the polling stations appears to be a voter-suppression operation. Palestinian citizens of Israel have long been under undue and barely legal surveillance by the ISA, Israel’s security agency also known as the Shin Bet, which still determines who can serve as a school principal. The news that voters may be surreptitiously recorded by the ruling party as they vote is likely to keep many voters away from the polls. Palestinian citizens would certainly be right to wonder whether this information will be used against them in the future.
The fact that Likud has unofficially admitted to planting the cameras – which is very likely a crime – and that Netanyahu confirmed the use of hidden cameras seems baffling, unless that is precisely the goal: to convince Palestinian voters they may be spied upon, and should stay home.
Voting among Palestinian citizens was lower yesterday than in the 2015 election by nearly 20 percent. By 4:00 p.m. local time only some 15 percent of Israel’s Palestinian voters came to the polls. The polls were open between 7:00 a.m. and 10:00 p.m. There were reports of panic among the Arab parties. As polls closed exit surveys showed voter turnout bumped up to 44 percent.
Palestinian voters generally go the polls at lower rates than Jewish voters, with the exception of the 2015 elections. This brings back shades of the 2001 elections, in which Prime Minister Barak faced Ariel Sharon; only 18 percent of Palestinian voters went to the polls then. It appears that the yesterday’s choice, between either Netanyahu or Benny Gantz (who began his campaign by boasting about “returning Gaza to the Stone Age”), was just as unappetizing.