Netanyahu echoes Trump, pushes for election cameras
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.
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.