(September 16, 2019 / JNS) Following a Central Election Committee hearing on Sunday, the Attorney General’s Office issued a legal opinion on Sunday that the right-wing “Gatekeepers” group can patrol Arab voting stations during Tuesday’s vote so long as they remain 10 meters (33 feet) away and do not stray from their stated mission of providing a self-described “feeling of security” to ballot officials inside the polling stations.
According to the Times of Israel, the “Gatekeeper” initiative was launched last week, days after Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu’s failure to pass legislation in the Knesset that would have allowed cameras at the ballot box.
During the first round of elections, some 1,200 Likud representatives, mostly from the young national religious sector, covertly wore body cameras to Arab polling stations, causing tussles between the representatives and poll workers. Ahead of the second round of elections, Likud has reportedly hired more than 2,500 young adults to serve at polling stations, however they are banned from bringing cameras. According to the “Gatekeepers,” these representatives will need an extra layer of protection.
The group of setter and national religious leaders launched their crowd funding campaign, seeking NIS 100,000 ($28,336) to hire hundreds of individuals to stand outside the polling stations in Arab towns. Their appeal includes a video recorded at an Arab voting station during the 2015 elections that shows polling committee members suggesting that they tamper with the ballot count. The campaign states, “We will not allow the left-wing bloc to steal the elections.”
Signed onto the initiative are Binyamin Regional Council chairman Yisrael Gantz, Beit El Local Council chairman Shai Alon, former Samaria Regional Council chairman Benny Katzover, Samaria Settlers’ Committee chairman Tzachi Dickstein, former Binyamin Settlers’ Committee chairman Itzik Shadmi, former Jewish Home official Haim Falk, former Gush Etzion Regional Council chairman Moshe Seville, along with actor and Beit El resident Hagai Luber.
During the Central Election Committee hearing, Attorney Shachar Ben Meir petitioned Supreme Court Justice Hanan Melcer to forbid Gatekeeper activity, calling it a “racist” provocation that targets Israel’s Arab minority equal to hiring a “private militia” that could interfere in the election process and might spark violence at the polls.
An Israel Police representative also told Melcer that the police did not need extra help maintaining order at polling stations and that it is not the responsibility of private individuals to protect polling committee members.
However, Falk told Melcer that the Gatekeepers will provide a “security blanket” for the polling committee officials inside the stations, and there would be no violent intimidation of Arab voters as Blue and White Party leader Benny Gantz claimed last week.
Following the hearing and Attorney General opinion, Melcer is expected to offer a legal ruling in the coming days.