Netanyahu's Claims of Voter Fraud are Undermining Israel's Democracy – Not Just Helping him to Another Victory
By accusing Palestinian Israeli voters of trying to steal next week’s election, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is taking a tip out of the Donald Trump playbook.
As Israeli voters return to the polls next week for the second time in six months – in what many have described as “the election nobody wants” – Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is returning to the same playbook that has carried him to more national electoral wins than any of his predecessors.
He has promised to annex Palestinian land, exaggerating a national security threat, and falsely accused Palestinian Israeli voters of trying to steal the election.
Last week, Netanyahu made repeated claims that the election is in danger of being “stolen” telling the Central Elections Committee: “We know there is widespread fraud. It’s something we have to prevent.” He recommended that cameras be installed in targeted polling booths to counter the threat.
This is an even more sinister ruse than the one deployed by Netanyahu in 2015 when he tried scaring his supporters to the polls by warning: “The Arabs are flocking in droves to the polling stations.” Phony claims about widespread voter fraud aim to obliterate the public’s faith in the democratic process – particularly because, it could be argued, that they are designed to suppress the Palestinian Israeli vote by mobilising non-Jewish voters to harass and intimidate Arab voters at polling booths on election day.
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When the country’s last national election was held on 9 April, Netanyahu’s Likud Party deployed nearly 1,300 right-wing activists wearing hidden cameras to serve as “election monitors” at polling booths in predominately Palestinian Israeli cities and towns. Voter participation was down from 65% in 2015 to below 50% in 2019.
“If Israelis cannot be confident that their vote counts, then why vote?” the Israeli English language newspaper Haaretz has asked. “If the most crucial component of a democracy – faith in elections – is removed, then why abide by any democratic norms?”
Netanyahu again claimed last week that “voter fraud” is the reason why the Arab political party Balad was able to receive enough votes to pass the electoral threshold in the April election and prevent the right-wing bloc from attaining the required 61 seats in the Knesset to govern.
But, there is no evidence to support the claim that widespread voter fraud is occurring in Israel’s elections. In fact, a recent investigation conducted by the Central Elections Committee in late April found only two polling booths with potential irregularities – one of them being in a predominately Jewish and Likud Party-voting city.
When Netanyahu isn’t dismissing accurate but damaging reports about his Government as “fake news”, he’s warning voters that Israel is being swamped and ruined by immigrants and that a “coup” is being plotted against him. Netanyahu has become the long lost brother of Donald Trump, who falsely claimed “millions of illegal immigrants” had voted in the 2016 presidential election to explain why he lost the popular vote by a substantial margin to Hillary Clinton.
As in Israel, there is no evidence to support the claim that voter fraud is a significant feature of US elections, with numerous investigations into voter behaviour finding almost zero instances of voter irregularities. The non-partisan Brennan Centre for Justice, for example, found that only 0.0025% of ballots cast in all US elections were worthy of further investigation, noting that an American “will be more likely struck by lightening than be impersonated by another voter at the polls”.
Claims of voter fraud, particularly when such allegations are targeted at a racial or ethnic minority, are effective, however, because they require no evidence to gain traction and are supported by an ever-willing rabid and racist right-wing media-industrial-complex.
“The problem, rather, is that journalists and media all across the spectrum are working for their owners and their owners’ interests, and for commercial and political interests, rather than for the public,” Shuki Tausig, editor of the Israeli media watchdog The Seventh Eye, said in a recent interview. “Populist leaders like Trump and Bibi couldn’t stoke so much hatred and fear toward minorities and the media if the media itself was working in the public interest. If the public thought that the media was working for them, Bibi wouldn’t succeed [in his attacks]. You can’t convince the public to hate something they love; you can only convince them to keep hating something they already hate.”
With these tailwinds pushing Netanyahu towards another electoral victory, it is not hard to see why the country’s longest serving Prime Minister continues to return to the same well of stoking racism while, at the same time, undermining the public’s faith in democracy.