Jerusalem: The Likud Party of Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu hired hundreds of activists to use hidden cameras to film Arab voters in polling stations during the general elections on Tuesday, officials said.
A police spokesman told Xinhua news agency “dozens” of cameras were seized police in Arab-majority towns throughout Israel. The Hebrew-language Walla news site reported that some 1,200 hidden cameras were installed in polling sites.
Video footages emerged on social networks showed polling representatives of the Likud with cameras hidden in their shirts or bags. The footages were taken by activists with the Arab-Jewish Hadash-Ta’al list, who first exposed the hidden cameras.
An official with Likud Party confirmed that the party was behind the move. Kobi Matza, the Likud’s representative in the Central Elections Committee, told Kan Bet Radio cameras were tracking possible voter fraud. “They aimed to preserve the purity of the election,” said Matza.
Netanyahu himself defended the hidden cameras, telling reporters they were used to “ensure a fair vote”.
Supreme Court Justice Hanan Melcer, also Chairman of the Central Elections Committee, banned the cameras. In a statement released on Tuesday, Melcer said it was forbidden for polling station committee members to film voters or the voting process.
He said filming was permitted only “in extraordinary circumstances” like violence or alleged fraud.
Ahmad Tibi, a lawmaker and co-leader of the Hadash-Taal Arab-Jewish list, said the Likud wanted to intimidate Arab voters by using cameras.
Israel’s Haaretz newspaper reported the Likud spent “hundreds of thousands of shekels” on the move. A senior Likud official, speaking on condition of anonymity, told the newspaper the move was aimed at ensuring that Balad-Taal list, a coalition of two nationalist Palestinian parties, didn’t pass the electoral threshold by forging votes.
Netanyahu is facing a tough contest from Israel’s former Chief of General Staff Benny Gantz who leads the centrist party of Blue and White.
The voting began at 7 a.m. (local time) at over 10,000 polling stations and was due to end at 10 p.m. local time.