No militias needed

The task, they said, would be to monitor the polling stations located in the Arab sector.

September 10, 2019 22:26
3 minute read.
An Israeli Arab casts her ballot at a polling station in the northern town of Reineh, in 2015

An Israeli Arab casts her ballot at a polling station inside a church in the northern town of Reineh, March 17, 2015.. (photo credit: AMMAR AWAD / REUTERS)

A worrying phenomenon was revealed over the past week, just days before the national election on September 17.

Following the failure to legislate a law to place cameras in polling stations, Channel 12 News reported on Monday evening that an initiative had been put forward, by the leader of the Yesha Council (the umbrella organization representing communities in Judea and Samaria), to send hundreds of right-wing volunteers – “an elite unit,” the report said – to “secure” polling stations in Arab towns and cities.

Heads of regional councils in Judea and Samaria called the initiative the Gatekeepers Project. The task, they said, would be to monitor the polling stations located in the Arab sector. According to the report, these guards are meant to stand at the entrances of the polling stations and oversee voting throughout the day.

On Tuesday, Walla’s Tal Shalev revealed a crowdfunding campaign created by the Yesha leaders. In their appeal to the public, they said that “the elections are being stolen from us,” borrowing a line from Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. The Gatekeepers initiative, they said, was established “to protect Jewish observers in Arab villages.”

The Channel 12 report claimed that senior members of several right-wing parties running for the Knesset are supportive of the initiative. This comes only days after Yisrael Beytenu leader Avigdor Liberman went on Channel 12’s Meet the Press and said that he knows about a Likud initiative to incite violence at polling stations in an effort to deter potential voters from voting on Election Day.
“We received indications that there is a clear order to establish large groups that will incite brutal violence in polling stations where Yisrael Beytenu is known to have strong support,” Liberman said. “They are to be sent there to create brawls and chaos, in an attempt to disqualify polling stations. There is a clear order, coming from above, to use violence.”

But not only the Right attempts to take the law into its own hands. Before the bill to place cameras in polling stations failed to pass in a Knesset committee on Monday, Labor-Gesher put out a statement with an initiative of its own to make sure that public order is maintained.

“We will not let Bibi steal the elections,” the statement said.

Labor-Gesher said that it intends to place hundreds of volunteers who will prevent “Bibi’s camera people” from deterring people from voting in predominantly Arab and Druze areas.

The statement continues: “In opposition to Netanyahu’s thugs, the Labor Party started drafting thousands of volunteers from the kibbutz movement and former members of elite combat units who will stand in polling stations in Arab and Druze areas and push back Bibi’s bullies.”

It was also mentioned that this “elite unit” of volunteers will be led by ex-Labor MK Omer Bar Lev, a former commander of the IDF General Staff Reconnaissance Unit, better known by its Hebrew name, Sayeret Matkal.

This phenomenon of political parties taking the law into their own hands should concern us all. How did we end up in a situation where political groups feel the need to “secure” polling stations or “protect” voters? How did we end up in a situation where militias are being formed by political groups?

This kind of phenomenon occurs in countries that are unstable, where the authorities are not strong enough to protect citizens and keep elections fair. Israel is a democratic state that has a police force, the Shin Bet (Israel Security Agency), an independent legal system and other institutions that keep its citizens safe and maintain law and order on a daily basis. Their job is also to ensure that Election Day runs smoothly and fairly.

Yes, there are forces – both on the Left and on the Right – that are trying to undermine the authority of these institutions and to claim that they are illegitimate. We should not cooperate with these forces. Let’s keep this election safe and fair.

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