This past Monday, Bar-Ilan University was privileged to host the American ambassador to Israel, Dan Shapiro. When the ambassador sat down to talk with students, I had the opportunity to ask him about his work. I wanted to know if, as a Jew and as someone who has made known his personal affinity for the State of Israel, he has ever faced a conflict of interest in his position. Had he ever felt the need to sometimes detach himself from whatever connection he feels toward Israel in order to adequately execute American policy? I asked.
Ambassador Shapiro''s answer was unequivocal. He''d never felt such a conflict, nor to his knowledge had anyone ever questioned his loyalties. I believe those questions of dual-loyalty are behind us now, a thing of the past, he explained.
While I don''t doubt the ambassador''s words, I wonder how such a thing can be possible. I''ve lived in this country for four years and still I can''t always be sure where my loyalties are supposed to lie. For me, the most pressing example of this is voting via absentee ballot. America gives its citizens living abroad the legal right to vote in its elections via absentee ballot. Contrary to what many people believe, absentee ballots are always opened and counted. They also matter: the 2000 presidential election was determined by just 537 votes.
Interest in the US presidential elections is not casual for many American olim (immigrants), who may see the outcome as decisive in determining Israel''s future. So I can understand and identify with the desire to fill out an absentee ballot.
When I think of a situation in which Israel would let every Jew in the Diaspora vote in its elections, though, the picture changes dramatically. It would disturb me greatly if the right to vote was granted to people who do not live in Israel and will not have to live directly beneath its government and bear its decisions (I''m of course not referring to troops, or similar situations).
Similarly, I''m not sure I understand what right an American oleh/olah would have to influence US policy electorally if s/he is no longer a permanent resident there. To compound the situation further, what if one believes one candidate might be better for Israel and the other candidate better for America? I see this issue arise mostly among American olim who would normally identify as Democrats in the States, but who believe that a Republican candidate might be more “Israel-friendly.” (The opposite situation would also produce the same problem.)
So where are my loyalties supposed to lie? As a patriotic American, should I forgo my right to vote because I''m inclined to believe that the absentee ballot policy is not beneficial or fair to American citizens who actually live in the country? Or, as I''ve seen many American olim do, can I reason that an “Israel-friendly” president is in America''s best interest? But if making aliya meant that my loyalties are now supposed to lie exclusively, or at least primarily, with Israel, than should I use all legal means to further its interests?
Would be happy to hear feedback, especially from olim who are able to vote via absentee ballot in their native countries.
Also, if anyone holding American citizenship would like to know more about voting via absentee ballot, I recommend checking out iVote.