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Israeli PM’s bid to place cameras at polling stations fails

By ARON HELLERSeptember 9, 2019
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Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu attends the weekly cabinet meeting at his office in Jerusalem, Israel, Sunday, Sept. 8, 2019. (Abir Sultan/Pool Photo via AP)
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Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu attends the weekly cabinet meeting at his office in Jerusalem, Israel, Sunday, Sept. 8, 2019. (Abir Sultan/Pool Photo via AP)

JERUSALEM (AP) — Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu failed on Monday in his eleventh hour bid to legislate that cameras be installed in polling stations to prevent what his supporters claim is voting fraud in Arab districts.

After a stormy session, a parliamentary committee voted it down before it reached the plenum with Netanyahu’s backers deadlocked with his opponents.

The deciding, dissenting vote was cast by a representative of former Defense Minister Avigdor Lieberman, an ally-turned-rival of Netanyahu who forced Israel’s unprecedented second election of the year and is poised to be the kingmaker again in the vote.

With just a week to go to the repeat election, Netanyahu had sought to pass the controversial legislation amid a scorched earth campaign in which he’s accused his opponents of conspiring to “steal” the election.

Netanyahu responded to the setback by slamming the opposition.

“There is no reason for those who really care about the integrity of the election to object to the camera law, which prevents forgeries,” he said in a video message to his followers. “There is only one answer to this: Turn out in masses at the ballot box.”

Netanyahu insists the proposal was a matter of transparency, but it drew renewed accusations that he was promoting racism and incitement against the country’s Arab minority. Critics also said he was preemptively claiming to be a victim of electoral fraud as an alibi, in case he loses.

Mordechai Kremnitzer, a constitutional law expert, wrote in the Haaretz daily that the bill amounted to pointing a “gun at Israeli democracy’s head.”

With his career on the line, Netanyahu has increasingly been embracing some tactics of President Donald Trump. Netanyahu routinely lashes out at the media, the judiciary, the police and his political opponents, claiming there is a conspiracy of “elites” to oust him.

In a Facebook video Sunday, Netanyahu hinted that Arab forgery prevented him from winning the April vote. Netanyahu’s hard-line Likud Party had sent out campaign workers on election day to videotape Arab voters entering polling stations, claiming they were preventing fraud.

A Likud-linked PR agency that spearheaded the campaign later boasted it had helped suppress Arab turnout, while Arab leaders accused Likud of trying to intimidate voters. Israel’s Central Election Commission banned the practice this time around and the fast-tracked legislation was supposed to override that ruling.

Adalah, a legal rights group for Arab minority rights, said even without passing the proposed bill it “has already caused harm by injecting bald-faced lies into the public political discourse under the premise of preserving the ‘purity of elections.’”

Stifling Netanyahu once again was his nemesis Lieberman, who said any monitoring should be operated by election officials and not “Netanyahu’s private militia.”

Lieberman, who was once Netanyahu’s chief of staff and a staunch partner, has emerged as his chief rival and critic. He passed up the post of defense minister in Netanyahu’s government following April’s election, claiming the new coalition would give excessive influence to ultra-Orthodox Jewish parties. The dispute left the prime minister without a parliamentary majority and forced the Sept. 17 do-over vote.

Opinion polls show Likud in a neck-and-neck race with the main challenger, the centrist Blue and White party, with neither side able to secure an outright majority without the support of Lieberman’s party. Lieberman is pressing for a unity government between the two parties, but Netanyahu claims the real goal is to oust him from office.

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