When my Labor Zionist cousins made aliya from New York City in the 1950s to an
agricultural moshav outside Ra’anana they cast off comfort, kin, and familiarity
for the yoke of pioneering Zionism. It was inevitable that they’d lose touch
with the Brooklyn Dodgers, Joe DiMaggio’s love life, and the fate of the Third
Avenue El. Just getting hold of a delayed copy of the Herald Tribune
would have been a coup. And the thought of casting an absentee ballot in the
presidential contest between Republican Dwight D. Eisenhower and Democrat Adlai
Stevenson did not even cross their minds.
Nowadays, Americans living in
Israel will find voting in the 2012 presidential elections no trickier than
keeping up with Season Five of Mad Men. As an ex-New Yorker, I am able to apply
to vote via a Federal website or through my local board of elections. It
seems I am eligible to vote in municipal contests and, for all I know, in school
board races. Having downloaded and filled out an application, all I need do is
affix my signature and airmail the forms to the Board of Elections on Ninth
Avenue. Anticipating approval of my submission, the board has already emailed to
wish me “a great voting experience this year!”
Filing overseas tax returns is a
legal obligation, holding a second passport may be prudent, and feeling devotion
to America is only natural. But as someone who has no expectations of returning
to live in the United States I see voting as an exploitation rather than an
exercise of my rights, and as a betrayal of my Zionist bona fides. Did Herzl and
Jabotinsky go to their early graves so that I could exercise my right to vote in
THAT’S NOT the way Kory Bardash of Republicans Abroad sees it. A strong
America, he argues, helps secure a strong and independent Israel. “By helping to
elect officials that understand and support Israel’s struggle against an ever
increasing hostile world that looks to delegitimize it, those that vote in the
US election can help support [the Zionist] dream.”
Advocates of absentee
balloting also argue that with taxation comes representation. Expats living in
London have no compunction about voting in US elections so why should those
living in Tel Aviv feel differently? According to Bardash, Israel’s 300,000
Americans make it the fifth-largest expat community. Many maintain deep
connections through family, friends and frequent visits. Moreover, 115 countries
allow absentee voting and they can’t all be wrong.
All true, but Israel
doesn’t allow absentee balloting. And there is no groundswell of
sentiment to give 500,000 expat Israelis (about 10 percent of the population)
whose lives are permanently centered in America, Russia, or Germany the right to
vote. On the other hand, Cabinet Secretary Zvi Hauser did lately direct a
quasi-public think tank to explore whether – and to what extent – to enfranchise
He is weighing one option in particular that, if
endorsed by the cabinet and passed by the Knesset, would extend limited voting
rights to some 42,000 Israelis on a one-off basis who have been abroad for no
more than four years –among them university students, post-army trekkers,
visiting academics, business people, tourists and airline crews.
Israel’s size that could be enough, cumulatively, to influence the outcome of
two Knesset seats. Historically, however, any reforms have been opposed by
strange bedfellows: the ultra-Orthodox Shas party, some national-religious
factions, the Arab bloc, and the leftist Haaretz newspaper.
sensible reforms extending the vote to those temporarily out of the country
could make it through the Knesset, no one expects the franchise to be handed
broadly to ex-Israelis permanently living overseas. The consensus seems to be
that those who have permanently made their lives elsewhere have ceded their say
in life-and-death decisions affecting the Jewish state.
expat US citizens the circumstances are quite different. Some Israeli-Americans
will vote out of a sense of patriotism; of those many will weigh the moral
dilemma of exercising power without personally having to pay the consequences.
Some, naturally, will not cast absentee ballots because of lethargy. And still
others will consciously refrain from voting because for them answering the
Zionist call for the ingathering of the Jewish people in the land of Israel
necessitates, perforce, abdication of involvement in the political affairs of
one’s former homeland.
This article first appeared in Jewish Ideas Daily
and is re-published with permission.