Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s efforts to install cameras at Israeli voting stations failed on Monday after a parliamentary committee voted down his party’s proposed bill, which rights groups warned was aimed at lowering Palestinian turnout in next week’s elections.
Last week, Netanyahu’s Likud party put forward a bill that proposed allowing its party representatives to film at polling stations should they suspect “voting offenses” are taking place.
The bill was approved by Netanyahu’s cabinet on Sunday before being struck down by parliament 24 hours later, on Monday.
The legislation was seen as an attempt to circumvent a prior decision by the Central Election Committee (CEC) that forbade the placement of cameras at polling stations on Election Day, except in specific cases where the ballot secretary, a CEC employee, was granted advance permission from the committee.
The CEC decision came following the intervention of rights groups in Israel who petitioned for the banning of cameras at polling stations, after it was found that Likud’s polling committee had planted some 1,200 hidden surveillance cameras in polling stations across Arab communities during the April elections.
“While the Central Election Committee decided that cameras may be placed randomly at polling stations across the country, or where problems arose in the past, Likud’s initiative would allow each party running in the election to place cameras at every polling station it sees fit,” Haaretz reported.
In the lead up to elections, which were called take place on September 17th after Netanyahu failed to form a governing coalition back in April, the premiere has doubled down on his claims that the last election was “stolen” by voter fraud.
“We know that large-scale fraud exists, and it must be prevented. Allowing party-affiliated observers to film the voting process is the only way to prevent election theft,” Netanyahu said on Sunday.
His rhetoric has been largely centered around anti-Arab sentiment, intended to rile up his right-wing base ahead of next week’s vote.
In 2015, Netanyahu was condemned for inciting racial tension for his comments that Arab voters were “going to the polls in droves.”
Many critics have compared his “intimidation tactics” to that of U.S. President Donald Trump, who centered alleged voter fraud in largely black communities during his 2016 presidential campaign.
Palestinian MK Ayman Odeh took to Twitter on Monday to celebrate Netanyahu and Likud’s failure, saying “Netanyahu is fighting a battle against Arab society, the judiciary, and the entire democratic space.”
Odeh accused Netanyahu of “triggering a panic vote” among his right-wing supporters and “suppressing the Arab vote.”
The Legal Center for Arab Minority Rights in Israel (Adalah), one of the groups that petitioned for a ban on cameras at polling stations, praised Monday’s decision, saying the “sole purpose” of the bill “was to influence the upcoming elections via racial incitement and overt attacks on law enforcement bodies and the very rule of law itself.”
Adalah emphasized that while the bill was not passed, it “has already caused harm by injecting bald-faced lies into the public political discourse under the premise of preserving the ‘purity of elections’.”
“It is now abundantly clear to all that this proposed law would never pass a constitutional litmus test,” Adalah said, reiterating its calls for a criminal investigation to be launched into the Likud party’s use of surveillance cameras in the April election.
“Indeed, evidentiary materials handed over to police confirmed that the mere deployment of the cameras in polling stations interfered with the proper course of the elections.”