Distance proves no barrier for some Israeli voters abroad

Despite the distance and high cost of travel, some Israeli citizens living abroad have decided that the election is simply too important to miss and have traveled far to be able to cast their vote.

April 8, 2019 19:41
4 minute read.
Child  casts vote for mother

A child casts her mother's vote (photo by Marc Israel Sellem). (photo credit: MARC ISRAEL SELLEM)


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As election fever reaches its climax on Tuesday, millions of Israelis will walk or travel only a short distance to make their voices heard at their local ballot box.

Given the tightly-contested nature of this year's elections, turnout could once again exceed 70%, as it did in the last elections for the Knesset in 2015. For many, there's a feeling that every vote counts.

In recent weeks, some 5,000 Israeli diplomats, government officials and Jewish Agency employees across the world voted early, ensuring that their ballots reach Israel in time to be counted after the polls close at 10 p.m.

At the same time, more than 550,000 Israelis who are currently living abroad and do not hold a government or state-sponsored position are unable to vote from their current places of residence.

Yet, despite the distance and sometimes high cost of travel, some Israeli citizens living abroad have decided that the election is simply too important to miss and have traveled far to be able to cast their vote.

Offir Gutelzon lives in Palo Alto, California, where he serves as the CEO and founder of start-up Keepy.me, an application enabling parents to organize, save and share their children's artwork, schoolwork and other mementos. He traveled more than 7,000 miles to vote in Tuesday's election.

"As an Israeli citizen, it is my civic and moral duty to vote, and these elections are critical for many reasons," Gutelzon, who has lived abroad for the past seven years, told The Jerusalem Post.

"As long as Israelis can retain their citizenship and by law have the right to vote, it should be made easier for them to vote," he said.

"The same way as Israel takes credit for any success of Israelis living outside the county and expects them to be ambassadors, and as Israelis who raise our kids to care and love and maybe one day even come back to live in Israel and serve in the army, we should be able to vote.

"While the center of my life is in Silicon Valley, like many other Israeli-Americans I have parents, brothers and sisters, and nephews and nieces in Israel, and Israel is close to my heart."

New York resident Alon Alroy has lived in Manhattan for the past six years after co-founding Bizzabo, an event software company. Alroy and three other Israeli members of the company's leadership team have all returned to Israel to vote.

"One of our core company values is 'We Care,' not only caring about our business but about our world and our country, and that's why we enabled every Israeli employee to go back to Israel if they want to vote," said Alroy.

"I do think the situation is a little problematic. Anybody who is abroad should be able to vote without spending the money to go back, especially for those who are travelling for business. Maybe you should need to be a resident to vote, but the situation needs to be easier than it is now."

Exchange student Asaf Uriel, originally from Lod, is currently studying for four months at the Paris Institute of Political Studies, also known as Sciences Po. When he heard that elections had been called, he soon booked his flights back to Israel.

"I think that most people who make this extra effort to vote is because they believe it’s a civic duty to do so. Even if I were to vote for a party that wasn’t one of those closely fighting at the top of the polls, I would still do it," said Uriel, who is studying in Paris as part of his degree in Government at IDC Herzliya.

"Israel does have a rather big population on the go, whether it's a post-army trip, business people or exchange students for less than a year. Those people who still live in Israel but are away for less than a year or so should definitely be able to vote," Uriel added.

"They shouldn’t be penalized. It’s discrimination and it’s very doable," Uriel said, highlighting the success of the United States' absentee voting program.

Dr. Roy Zilberman has been living in Manchester, UK, for the past 10 years and is currently a lecturer in economics at Lancaster University.

Prior to boarding a flight to Ben-Gurion Airport on Monday morning, he told the Post that he plans to vote according to his priorities as an Israeli living abroad.

"I think that one of the biggest threats to Israel is the BDS movement, and I want to vote for a party that will do its best to fight against BDS, and to improve Israel’s hasbara (public diplomacy) around the world," said Zilberman.

"Israelis abroad should definitely be able to vote. We’re still Israelis, we’re still connected to our country and we still care about our country. The fact that we live abroad doesn’t mean that we don’t care about what’s going on Israel. In fact, I care more about what’s going on since I started living abroad."

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