Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s right-wing Likud party admits illegally filming Arabs voting

The photo taken from Israeli media sows a hidden camera taken into a polling station in an Arab town by a Likud observer during Israel's parliamentary elections on April 9, 2019.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s right-wing Likud party has admitted it was behind the unlawful deployment of about 1,200 hidden cameras at polling stations in Arab neighborhoods on election day, a move condemned by Arab politicians as voter intimidation.

The party sent monitors equipped with body cameras to a number of polling stations with Arab constituents on Tuesday, when people in the Israeli-occupied territories went to the polls.

Videos posted online appeared to show Likud operatives being confronted by other observers and the police over small cameras they had hidden in their clothes.

In one of the videos, a young man with a hidden camera confronted at a polling station said he was acting on behalf of “my employers… Likud.” Some of the cameras were said to be installed in the polling stations.

Jamil Baransi, Deputy Mayor of Reineh, an Arab town in northern Israel, said monitors from right-wing parties had brought cameras to all of the 17 local polling centers.

“We noticed that each one of these representatives had a camera on them, on their bodies,” he said, adding that he believed the cameras were “designed to intimidate voters.”

On Wednesday, an Israeli public relations company working for Likud said it had placed the cameras, boasting that the move was responsible for reduced turnout among Arab Israeli voters.

“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!” PR company Kaizler Inbar posted on Facebook.

An Israeli-Arab woman prepares to casts her ballot as Israelis vote in a parliamentary election, at a polling station in Umm al-Fahm, Israeli occupied territories, April 9, 2019. (By Reuters)

The firm also thanked “the 1,350 field operatives, activists of all ages and types dispatched to polling stations” “for the important task assigned to you.”

The Arab-majority party Hadash-Ta’al submitted a complaint to the Central Elections Committee, which determined that filming at polling stations violated Israeli election laws.

“Now it’s official — the Likud tried to lower the Arab turnout through illegal means. Hidden cameras, monitoring and voter suppression,” MK Ayman Odeh, head of the far-left Hadash-Ta'al slate, told Israel’s Haaretz newspaper.

“This is what de-legitimization of a fifth of the citizenry looks like. What started out as unleashed racist incitement continued in the nation-state law and could end with a transfer government and revoking rights,” he said.

The Israeli Arabs comprise 21 percent of the population who live in north of the occupied territories.

Outgoing MK Jamal Zahalka, from the Arab Balad party, told the Times of Israel the recording was an “illegal” action by the “extremist right” to try and prevent Arabs from voting.

The newspaper said turnout in Arab communities stood at only 46 percent this year, while it had been 63.7 percent in 2015.

Arab lawmaker Ahmad Tibi said the filming was a “direct attempt to sabotage” the freedom to vote.

Netanyahu and the Likud party’s attorney defended the filming, claiming the measure was necessary to prevent widespread voter fraud.

According to Israeli Kan public broadcaster, police have opened an investigation into the camera activity.

The Israeli prime minister has witnessed a sharp decline in his popularity rate among the Israeli Arab population, after his administration drafted a hugely racist bill declaring Israel “the nation-state of the Jewish people,” which was passed by the Knesset last July.

According to Haaretz, Kaizler Inbar is run by Sagi Kaizler, a former head of a West Bank settlement residents’ council. The paper quoted Kaizler as saying on 2015 that “Arabs are sitting alone in the polling station; we don’t trust them.”

In 2015, Netanyahu warned Likud supporters to get out and vote, as “Arab voters are heading to the polls in droves" to cast ballots with the help of left-wing organizations.