Israeli prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu has failed in a bid to allow cameras at polling stations during national elections, a move critics suggested was aimed at lowering Arab turnout.
The legislation, put forward by Netanyahu’s Likud party just over a week before election day, would have allowed representatives of political parties to film voters at polling stations.
The plan was foiled when a parliamentary committee voted down the bill on Monday.
Mr Netanyahu has frequently raised the threat of voter fraud on the part of Israeli Arabs as a campaign tactic to mobilise his right-wing base, despite there being little evidence to support his claims. The strategy has drawn comparisons to president Donald Trump, who has made similar unsubstantiated claims about minority communities in the US.
“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,” the prime minister said on Sunday.
Mr Netanyahu is facing a battle for political survival as he attempts to win a fifth term in the 17 September election, the second national vote to be held this year after April’s vote proved inconclusive. His Likud party claimed the last election had been “stolen” by voter fraud.
The election camera bill was widely criticised both for its questionable legality and for what many describe as an attempt to intimidate Arab voters.
Ayman Odeh, head of the Arab Joint List party, said on Twitter that Mr Netanyahu’s focus on the issue of voter fraud was aimed at “triggering a panic vote” by his supporters on the right and “suppressing the Arab vote”.
He added that Mr Netanyahu is “preparing the ground for the day he declares, ‘Arabs have stolen the elections’ and contests the results if he loses.”
Yair Lapid, co-leader of the centrist Blue and White Party, which is running neck-and-neck with Likud in polls, alluded to the impact the deployment of cameras might have on Arab voter turnout, describing the bill as “racist” in comments on Twitter.
Arabs make up 21 per cent of Israel’s population and generally vote not for Likud but for their own Arab parties, or centrist or left-wing Jewish parties.
In the 2015 election, Mr Netanyahu was accused of inciting racial tensions by urging his supporters to get out and vote because “the Arabs are going to the polls in droves”. And in April's vote, the prime minister’s Likud party sent monitors equipped with body cameras to several polling stations with Arab constituents in what Arab politicians described as voter intimidation.
The bill has also been criticised by Israel’s attorney general, Avichai Mendelblit, who has argued that it was illegal, and the country’s president, Reuven Rivlin, who said there was not enough time to properly discuss the plan.
Mr Netanyahu is currently facing three charges of corruption for allegedly accepting gifts from wealthy businessmen and using his position to negotiate better media coverage. He denies any wrongdoing.
Additional reporting from agencies
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