Israeli prime minister Binyamin Netanyahu has failed to pass a controversial Bill that would have allowed his Likud party activists to film at Arab polling stations in next Tuesday's election.
Mr Netanyahu had planned to fast-track the Bill through the Knesset parliament this week, against the advice of the attorney general and despite the likelihood that the measure would have been struck down by the high court.
The Cameras Bill called for party activists to be permitted to film in polling stations, but not in voting booths, on election day. The main target was Arab towns and villages, where the Likud receives meagre support and where Mr Netanyahu has made unsubstantiated allegations of widespread voter fraud.
However, the Knesset Arrangements Committee on Monday rejected the Likud-backed Bill following a stormy debate.The vote means there is no longer enough time for the legislation to pass before the election.
Mr Netanyahu responded angrily. “There is no reason for those who really want clean elections to oppose the Cameras Bill that prevents election fraud,” he said.
He accused his main opponents, the centrist Blue and White and the right-wing Yisrael Beiteinu, which refused to back the Bill, of voting with the Arab Joint List, "because they are going together to a left-wing government, where Joint List Knesset members Ahmed Tibi and Ayman Odeh will be ministers".
The proper response to the Bill being blocked is to “come in masses” to vote for Likud, Mr Netanyahu added.
Mr Tibi accused Mr Netanyahu of racism.
“The prime minister said in a previous election that the Arabs are flocking to the polls and today he’s translated it into an anti-Semitic statement, claiming the Arabs are involved in election fraud,” he said. “This is a person who is suspected of fraud and bribery. Likud is the last party that can preach morality to us.”
The opposition claimed the real purpose of the Cameras Bill was to whip up anti-Arab sentiment in order to energise the Likud base after a lacklustre campaign.
“It will be absurd if we don’t win because the election was stolen at the ballot box. We find that unacceptable,” said Mr Netanyahu.
Blue and White chair Benny Gantz said the Bill was designed to prepare public opinion for a rejection of the election results.
“Netanyahu is laying the groundwork to not accept and respect the results of the election. It’s a dangerous process.”
According to the polls, next week’s election, the second this year, will result in deadlock, with the two main parties – Likud, and Blue and White – more or less level and neither the right-wing/religious bloc nor the centre/left/Arab bloc winning enough seats to form a coalition.
The right-wing, secular Yisrael Beiteinu, led by former defence minister Avigdor Lieberman, looks set to hold the balance of power. He is insisting on the formation of a national unity government comprised of the Likud, Blue and White and his own party, without any religious and far-right parties.