The Likud, the party heading up PM Benjamin Netanyahu’s governing coalition, is planning to spend an estimated two million shekels on placing surveillance cameras in Arab polling stations all over Israel during the September 17 general elections.
During Israel’s April 9 election, hirelings contracted by the far-right Likud were discovered to be wearing secret body cameras in a bid to spy on Arab-Palestinian citizens of Israel at their local polling stations. The discovery of the cameras was met with anger by Arab voters and their political parties, and was widely blamed for contributing to low voter turnout throughout the community.
Shortly after this revelation, Netanyahu admitted that party activists had been given over 1,000 cameras to monitor voting process in Arab 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 the Likud to carry out the operation, bragging that it had forced turnout among Palestinian citizens of Israel to its lowest point in recent years.
Now, according to a report broadcast by Channel 13 news, the Likud plans to double its budget for a repeat campaign, spending two million shekels (approximately $570,000) to install cameras in Arab polling stations. The campaign will once again be headed up by Kaizler Inbar, and will be accompanied by increased police presence to monitor Arab voters.
Israel’s Central Election Committee – which oversees the state’s election process – will reportedly meet later this week to discuss the Likud’s program. The Channel 13 news report told how the Likud party plans to ask Supreme Court Judge Hanan Melcer, head of the elections committee, to “detail in writing what their poll watchers can and cannot do with the surveillance cameras”.
Melcer was previously critical of the policy, and filed a complaint with the Israel Police following the discovery by Hadash activists of the cameras during the course of last April 9’s election day. Hadash-Ta’al, one of the slates, which ran in April, also filed a complaint with the committee to demand that the Likud’s surveillance be stopped.
Following the latest report by Channel 13, Hadash slammed the revelation that Likud plans to use cameras to intimidate Arab-Palestinian citizens of Israel wishing to vote. Joint List candidate, MK Yousef Jabareen (Hadash) slammed the revelation 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 their basic right to vote.”
MK Jabareen, a professor of jurisprudence, 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 anything to bring the turnout in our community to a new low. We consider this act to be illegal and we will do our best to stop the Likud from implementing it.” Jabareen added “They will be disappointed to realize that our unity in the Joint List will defeat all their racist and anti-democratic plans.”
Adalah – The Legal Center for Arab Minority Rights in Israel – appealed on two separate occasions immediately after the elections to the attorney general, the state attorney, and Israel police’s Northern District Commander to open a criminal investigation into the matter. Adalah noted that the reports on hidden cameras reveal a tangible suspicion of violations of Article 119 of the Knesset Elections Law, which prohibits disturbance of the proper order of the elections or any attempt to prevent a voter from voting. In the absence of a response to these appeals, and in light of the approaching date of the elections for the 22nd Knesset, Adalah submitted a demand on July 16 to all three of the aforementioned law enforcement officials demanding that they clarify why no criminal investigation was opened into these suspicions. In view of the urgency of the matter, Adalah requested a response to its appeal no later than one week from the day it was sent, or July 23.
In the absence of a criminal investigation into the above deeds back on April 9, and in view of the fact that the comprehensive directives given on the day of the elections allow for a recurrence of these actions, Adalah appealed to Justice Melcer on July 17, requesting that he issue regulations prohibiting the placement of cameras in Arab communities. In the appeal, submitted by Adalah Attorney Sawsan Zaher, Adalah emphasized that not only was the planting of cameras at the polls a means of interference and deterrence, which severely undermined the exercise of the right to vote, but it also constitutes ethnic and racist labeling, which mandates the intervention of the Knesset’s Central Elections Committee in order to prevent this from recurring.
Attorney Zaher, who submitted the two appeals, stated: “The planting of hidden cameras in the previous Knesset elections enabled the ethnic labeling of Arab voters. Permitting them to be placed by the Elections Committee, and the failure to open a criminal investigation, despite our appeals, allows the normalization of the demonization of Arab society by the Elections Committee and law enforcement agencies even though it was clear that the installation of the cameras constitutes an obstruction of the election process. The failure of the authorities in this context implies their legitimization of racist actions within the framework of the activities of the members of the polling committees, and the sanctioning of the violation of the constitutional right to vote of the electorate in the Arab communities.”
According to an editorial published in Haaretz on July 31, “Judge Melcer has sought to maintain a smooth voting process and to prevent confrontations, but the wording of his decision opens the door to posting cameras in Arab communities. The next election will be held in less than seven weeks; the Central Elections Committee and its chairman have enough time to arrange for who exactly should be permitted to monitor and how, in observance of the principle of balloting secrecy and proper conduct of an election, in such a way to prevent any ethnic and racial profiling. Melcer has the mission of defending the purity of elections. He must make clear to the party in power and to all parties that they cannot send their own people out to monitor and intimidate Arab citizens.”