Latest From Haaretz: My Schizophrenic take on the right of Israelis to Vote From Abroad.‏

My latest from Haaretz.

Before writing an op-ed, my brain holds a vociferous debate with itself. One side argues passionately against the other and in the end, a vote is taken. Whichever position takes the majority vote becomes the topic of my column. But sometimes there is a stalemate. When this happens, the article will (usually) be left unwritten.

This is what happened when I sat down to write an op-ed about a law recently proposed by Benjamin Netanyahu and Avigdor Liberman which would allow Israelis living abroad to cast their ballot in future elections.

As an Israeli living in New York, I thought, “Great for me, finally I’ll be able to participate in Israeli elections.” But then a nagging thought entered my mind: “Do I, or any other Israeli expatriate, deserve to vote from afar?”

That question inspired the following row in my brain:

Left Brain: Yes, you do deserve it. Suffrage is an inalienable right inherited by virtue citizenship, not residence, and guaranteed under Israel’s Basic Laws. To condition civil rights on residence is to violate the principle of democratic rights and open the door for further compromises. It is for this reason that many democratic countries allow absentee ballots. If it is good enough for venerable democracies like the United States and France, then it is good enough for Israel.

Right Brain: No, you don’t deserve it. So what if many democratic countries allow ex-pats to cast absentee ballots? Israel is different. It is different in that so many of its citizens live abroad; it is different in that many more could be granted citizenship via the Law of Return; and it is different in that Israeli politics actually matter. All combined, the law could create a gallut (Diaspora) swing-vote whereby Israelis abroad play a crucial role in constructing domestic policy. In a country like Israel, it is unfair to let people who don’t partake in the challenge of living here to decide the fate of those who do.

To read the rest of the debate, click here.


3 responses to “Latest From Haaretz: My Schizophrenic take on the right of Israelis to Vote From Abroad.‏

  1. Hey Roi,

    Yes, Israelis living abroad should have the right to vote, because (from what I have understood) Israel is the land of all Jewish people; and if one day they need to seek refuge in their own country – it is only natural that they help shape the political scene of their country.

    “In a country like Israel, it is unfair to let people who don’t partake in the challenge of living here to decide the fate of those who do.” – this would be the same as Portugal saying that its emigrants should not vote because they don’t live here, so they have no right to decide the fate of those who do…when they do.

    “Besides, are you saying Israelis who chose to live abroad are equivalent to thieves, rapist and murderers?” – LOL good question.

    “When Israelis live abroad, they stop fulfilling their civic obligation – paying taxes, serving in the IDF and reserve duty -” – not entirely true. I have Jewish friends that have gone to Israel to serve in the IDF; and I have heard of many more who go to fullfil their reserve duty (many Jewish folks from Latin America and England do this – just to name a few).

    “they don’t pay taxes (…)” – well, does Israel have double taxation laws (like the US)? If not, then why should Israelis living abroad pay taxes in Israel? They pay taxes in the country they earn their income, I am sure of it.

    LOL I loved this article, it has humour (which I love) and it addresses an important issue!


  2. Aviva Victoria Brueckner

    Me and my twenty other Me’s greet your right brain. And as we are at it your left brain as well. But let’s get serious. My first time I participated in an election process I sat on the patio of my host family in South Carolina and casted a vote for the election of the European Parliament. It was 1994, I just turned 18 during my stay abroad and I will never forget it. It was a field day for the democratic, freedom loving nerd in me. And I would be happy to cast an absentee ballot for the Israeli parliamentary elections as well.

    Abraham Lincoln said elections are the concern of the people. The decision lies in their hands. If they choose to turn their back to the fire and burn their butt, they will have to sit on the blisters. Well, you could say that the people feel the pain of the blisters only in the country itself. But it wouldn’t be the truth. E.g., I live in Berlin. Not many Jews live in Germany, even less Israeli citizen. Hence, for most people I meet I might be the only Israeli of flesh and blood they ever see. I function for them as travel guide, history teacher, expert for Middle Eastern politics and not least the one to blame for anything they dislike about what the Israeli gov’ment does. After all, every people gets the gov’ment it deserves as it has voted for it. Well no, I didn’t. I wasn’t eligible. – But you are a citizen, aren’t you?

    Yes, I am. Out of the reasons given above I am even a highly politically sensitized citizen. And it is not the case that I am completely banned from any participation a democracy has to offer. Democracy comprises of any branch of the government but also extra-parliamentary opposition and the press. If one can believe in stats the common Israeli trusts more in the press than in his/her own gov’ment. But that is just an aside. What is important is that I can participate in extra-parliamentary groups, I can blog, I can leave comments, I can write articles, I can work with my art, I can influence the opinion as to how the state of Israel is seen in a foreign country – and it will make as much a difference as if I casted a vote. Nobody asks or doubts about my loyalty here. Why then should I be less loyal when I vote?

    If it is a question of divided loyalty then one has to disallow dual citizenship. It is a problem in International Law anyway, one tries to solve by introducing active and passive citizenships. And if one is true to oneself it is a problem of identity as well. Therefore, Germany e.g. forbids dual citizenship with the exemption in the case the second citizenship is that of Israel (out of historic reasons obviously). But no citizen is stripped of his/her right to vote wherever he/she lives. This makes more sense to me than any limitation of democracy and liberal freedoms.

  3. Haaretz doesn’t seem to want to publish this harmless comment, so I’ll write it here instead:

    People who live abroad, or who spend much of their time traveling, tend to be more educated and have a broader perspective on issues (liberals) than those who never leave their bubble (conservatives).

    I think citizens should retain their voting rights no matter where they are in the world. I’d hate to see anyone denied the ability to keep conservatives out of government.

    Imagine if the hundreds of thousands of Americans living in Europe were not able to vote in U.S. elections. In a close race, that could mean a win for Republicans – the very reason most of them moved to Europe in the first place.

    Any idea how most of the Israeli Diaspora is voting? Left or right?

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