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Court stops Netanyahu bid to have cameras at polling stations

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Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu speaks to reporters in his Jerusalem office, on Feb. 28, 2019. (Xinhua/JINI)

JERUSALEM (Reuters) – Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu failed on Monday in a bid to have cameras installed at Israeli voting stations, but seized on the legislative defeat to hone accusations his foes intend to steal next week’s election.

Echoing Donald Trump in his winning presidential run in 2016, Netanyahu, leader of the right-wing Likud party, has turned possible voter fraud into a central theme of his own campaign in a tightly contested race.

He has implored supporters to flock to the ballot box to ensure him a fifth term amid largely unproven allegations by Likud officials of widespread fraud at polling stations in Arab towns in the previous, inconclusive election in April.

A day after Netanyahu’s cabinet approved draft legislation for camera monitoring, the proposed bill was voted down in committee in parliament on Monday.

Most Western countries have restrictions on the use of cameras in ballot stations, and political commentators had predicted a rough ride for the measure.

Israel’s attorney-general, who will hear Netanyahu’s appeal two weeks after the Sept. 17 election against his intention to indict him in three corruption cases, opposed the draft legislation on privacy and procedural grounds.

But the proposal, which critics said was aimed at intimidating Arab voters, brought Netanyahu’s electoral fraud accusations to the forefront of a fight for political survival that has been marked by daily leaks of police interrogations of witnesses against him.

It also gave Netanyahu, who denies any criminal wrongdoing, a fresh chance to paint his strongest opponents to the right and center as left-wingers who offer no real alternative to any of his supporters who may be wavering.

Those politicians are in lockstep with Arab factions alarmed by the draft legislation, said Netanyahu, in office for the past decade. Arabs make up 21 percent of Israel’s population and have traditionally voted for Arab and left-wing Jewish parties.

Both former defense minister Avigdor Lieberman of the nationalist Yisrael Beitenu party and Benny Gantz, head of the centrist Blue and White party, came out against voting station video monitoring.

Opinion polls show Likud and Blue and White running neck and neck, and increased support for Lieberman.

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