Netanyahu Party Criticized over Cameras in Polling Stations
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu faced election day criticism Tuesday after activists from his right-wing Likud party brought cameras into polling stations in Arab-majority neighborhoods.
The main Arab party filed an urgent complaint to the elections committee after videos emerged appearing to show Likud observers being caught with small cameras while working in polling stations.
The party said it was an attempt to intimidate and reduce turnout among voters from Israel's Arabs minority.
Netanyahu said cameras would ensure there was no voter fraud.
A spokesman for the Central Elections Committee said it was illegal to film while people are voting.
Videos posted online appeared to show Likud activists being confronted by other observers and the police over small cameras concealed on their person.
Israeli media reported the cameras were given to Likud observers in hundreds of polling stations, though there was no confirmation of the scale.
Police spokesman Micky Rosenfeld said there had been "a number of suspected irregularities in polling stations in the northern region."
He said they were working to prevent further issues.
The Arab-majority Hadash-Taal alliance confirmed it had presented an urgent complaint to the elections committee demanding the "illegal" cameras be immediately removed.
One of the alliance's leaders, Ahmed Tibi, said Likud was resorting to covert means to try to influence the polling day outcome.
"Netanyahu wants to lower the percentage of Arabs arriving at the polls," he said.
Netanyahu brushed off the criticism, saying it "ensures clean voting."
"There should be non-overt cameras everywhere," he told journalists at a polling station in Jerusalem.
Kobi Massar, Likud representative to the Central Elections Committee, told public radio there was "suspicion of widespread voter fraud in the Arab sector."
"The cameras are meant to keep the elections clean."
Dahlia Scheindlin, an Israeli public opinion expert and political strategist, said there was no evidence of major voter fraud in the previous elections in 2015.
"In general the Israeli system is considered to have quite a high level of integrity," she told AFP.
Voting began at 0400 GMT, with polls suggesting a close race between right-winger Netanyahu and centrist Benny Gantz.
In 2015 elections, Netanyahu was heavily criticized for saying on polling day that Israeli Arabs were voting in "droves", a comment he later apologized for.
Israeli Arabs, who make up around 17.5 percent of the population, are Palestinians who remained on their land after the 1948 creation of Israel. They are largely supportive of the Palestinian cause.