Ne­tanyahu echoes Trump, pushes for election cam­eras

The Morning Call - - NATION & WORLD - By Josef Fe­d­er­man

JERUSALEM — In a strat­egy rem­i­nis­cent of Pres­i­dent Don­ald Trump’s 2016 cam­paign, Is­rael’s prime min­is­ter is pre­emp­tively claim­ing to be a vic­tim of elec­toral fraud as the coun­try pre­pares to head to elec­tions.

In a Face­book video Sun­day, Prime Min­is­ter Ben­jamin Ne­tanyahu ac­cused his op­po­nents of con­spir­ing to “steal” the election. He also pushed through his Cabi­net a pro­posal to in­stall cam­eras in vot­ing sta­tions to pre­vent what sup­port­ers claim is fraud in Arab dis­tricts. The pro­posal drew re­newed ac­cu­sa­tions that Ne­tanyahu was pro­mot­ing racism and in­cite­ment against the coun­try’s Arab mi­nor­ity.

Next week’s vote comes af­ter an in­con­clu­sive April election. While it’s un­clear the rightwing Is­raeli leader will be able to get his cam­era pro­posal through par­lia­ment in time for the do-over Sept. 17 election, the is­sue has nonethe­less gal­va­nized his sup­port­ers as he fights for his sur­vival in a tight race clouded by a host of cor­rup­tion charges against him.

But crit­ics ac­cused him of di­vert­ing at­ten­tion from a flawed cam­paign, un­der­min­ing the coun­try’s demo­cratic in­sti­tu­tions and po­ten­tially set­ting the stage for a Trump-like re­jec­tion of the re­sults if he loses.

“He is pre­par­ing the ground for the day when he can say, ‘The Arabs are steal­ing the election,’ ” Ay­man Odeh, leader of par­lia­ment’s main Arab fac­tion, wrote on Twit­ter Sun­day. “And if he loses, to ap­peal the re­sults.”

Is­rael’s Arab mi­nor­ity makes up around 20% of the pop­u­la­tion.

Ad­dress­ing his Cabi­net on Sun­day, Ne­tanyahu vowed to press ahead with the plan for cam­eras, which he said he wants in all sta­tions, and tried to paint the is­sue as one of trans­parency.

“The in­tegrity of the election is one of the foun­da­tions of a democ­racy,” he said. “The best way to pre­vent forg­eries in the election is to place cam­eras at all the polling sta­tions.”

With his ca­reer on the line, Ne­tanyahu has em­braced the tac­tics of Trump, a friend and po­lit­i­cal ally. Ne­tanyahu rou­tinely lashes out at the me­dia, the ju­di­ciary, the po­lice, the coun­try’s Arab mi­nor­ity and his po­lit­i­cal op­po­nents, claim­ing there is a con­spir­acy of “elites” try­ing to oust him.

In the run-up to the 2016 election in the United States, Trump sim­i­larly warned of a sys­tem “rigged” against him, urged his fol­low­ers to mon­i­tor vot­ing in ar­eas with large mi­nor­ity pop­u­la­tions and threat­ened to re­ject the election re­sults if he did not win.

Ne­tanyahu’s cam­era pro­posal has a con­tro­ver­sial and du­bi­ous past.

Dur­ing the April election, Ne­tanyahu’s hard-line Likud Party sent out cam­paign work­ers 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 has banned the prac­tice this time around.

De­spite claim­ing vic­tory in April, Ne­tanyahu failed to cob­ble to­gether a 61-seat ma­jor­ity coali­tion in par­lia­ment af­ter the election. He later dis­solved par­lia­ment and forced the up­com­ing vote, the first time Is­rael has ever held two elec­tions in the same year.

ODED BALILTY/AP

A worker hangs an election cam­paign bill­board show­ing Is­raeli Prime Min­is­ter Ben­jamin Ne­tanyahu and Pres­i­dent Don­ald Trump on Sun­day in Tel Aviv. The election is Sept. 17.

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