An unprecedented decision that adversely affects the status of the Attorney General and constituted a misuse of political power by a transitional government.
Following the vote in Israel's cabinet to submit to the Knesset a bill allowing cameras in polling places, researchers from the Israel Democracy Institute wrote a letter to Speaker of the Knesset Yuli-Yoel Edelstein and members of the Knesset calling on them not to proceed with the legislative initiative authorizing party-nominated observers to resort to visual and audio documentation in polling stations (though not in the voting booth itself). The bill, that supposedly seeks to address fraudulent voting practices, is sponsored by Minister of Justice Amir Ohana and Minister of Interior Aryeh Deri. The cabinet voted to proceed with the bill despite official opinions in opposition published by of the Central Election Commission, Justice Hanan Melcer (Chair of the Election Committee) and Attorney General Avichai Mandelblit.
In their letter, IDI researchers, Prof. Mordechai Kremnitzer, Dr. Amir Fuchs, Adv. Edna Harel Fisher, and Prof. Yuval Shany, state that the government's decision is unjustified and stands in complete opposition both the Attorney General's position as well as to the spirit of the rule of law. This decision is particularly blatant since the expedited governmental bill was submitted by a transitional government, which had failed to win the confidence of the current Knesset, and is being promoted just days before elections. The bill also seeks to affect next week's election, in a manner that prevents the necessary organization and preparation for such a fundamental change. Moreover, the bill is also unnecessary since the Election Committee has undertaken upon itself to audio-visually document irregular incidents in and around polling stations and to document the tallying process in a select number of stations.
This is an unprecedented decision for an Israeli cabinet. Never before has a law dealing with elections in Israel been formulated, proposed and passed, by a transitional government, in the last few days before an election. Bill passed by previous transitional governments usually completed an already ongoing legislative process, and were often agreed upon by both the opposition and the coalition.
The interference by elected officials with citizens' right to vote and be elected – a fundamental democratic right – creates unnecessary chaos and endangers the integrity of the elections, the freedom to vote without undue influence, and voter privacy.
"The current transitional government is misusing its political power and violating the basic principles of democratic governance," wrote the IDI researchers. "This government, which has time and again stressed the importance of strengthening principles of governance, is especially required to maintain the internal mechanisms, sanctioned by the Attorney General, to ensure good governance. It should also seek to avoid judicial intervention by the Supreme Court, which could exacerbate the existing tension between the branches of government,” the researchers continued.
Yohanan Plesner, President of the Israel Democracy Institute, noted: "There is no reason to act contrary to the opinion of the Attorney General. In a system of governance in which the cabinet represents a parliamentary majority, government bills enjoy a special status. This is especially true when the cabinet is promoting a bill in an expedited fashion. The government bears the responsibility for its proposals, especially when it comes to bills that are sure to impact the basic principles of the legal and judicial system in Israel."