Rattling the Cage: Bring on the expat votes

The problem with this idea, aside from the damage it will do to Israeli morale, is that it will make the country even more right-wing.

By LARRY DERFNER
February 10, 2010 23:07
4 minute read.
netanyahu smiles happy in knesset 298

netanyahu smiles 298. (photo credit: Ariel Jerozolimski)

It doesn’t get much more cynical or hypocritical than the new plan by Likud and Israel Beiteinu to give Israeli expatriates the vote. Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu said this will “add to the connection with, and to the strength of, Israel,” but the truth, as I’m sure he knows, is the opposite.

Giving the vote to expats will send the message that you can be a full-fledged Israeli, with all the rights of citizenship, without living here, without paying taxes, without serving in the army or doing national service, without putting up with the local dangers – which are greater than those in the countries where expats tend to resettle.

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Giving expats the vote will not lure them back; on the contrary, it will make them feel more Israeli while they’re living in North Hollywood, Boro Park or Fort Lauderdale. They’ll have less incentive to come back because they’ll feel more like they didn’t really leave.

Letting expats vote will make those who do live here feel like freiers,  suckers, which is not a feeling sabras like. It will have the worst effect of all on IDF reservists, who already feel like freiers.

Still, I can’t say that such a change in the voting law would be undemocratic; other countries give suffrage to their expatriates, such as my native US. (I don’t exercise my right to vote in US elections because I think a person should vote only in the country where he lives. But I must admit – if the presidential vote in California were close, I’d probably get a ballot and cast it for the Democrat.)

The problem, rather, with this idea of Netanyahu’s and Lieberman’s, aside from the damage it will do to Israeli morale, is that it will have a bad political effect – it will make the country more right-wing, which, as everyone knows is the only reason they wanted to change the law in the first place.

There seems to be a tendency among expats to make up for their guilt over leaving home by becoming more hawkish and nationalistic abroad, by “standing up for Israel,” by supporting policy decisions and politicians for war. Myself, if I wasn’t living in this country, I’d be reluctant to speak out for war if my family and I weren’t here to share the danger, but many if not most expats don’t seem to think this way.



I KNOW, of course, that there are any number of expats who don’t fit this description at all – the vocally right-wing yored is a generalization, yet, from my impression, it’s a fair one.

But the thing is this: Even assuming that the expat vote pushes Israel further right, it doesn’t really bother me so much anymore because Israel has effectively become a right-wing monolith. What’s the difference if Likud, Kadima, Israel Beiteinu, Labor or the religious parties – the pro-war coalition – commands 90 percent of the Jewish vote or 95%? What’s the difference if Meretz holds onto its three Knesset seats in the next election or drops to two?

The forces of the Right now run this country without any domestic challenge, and however many votes the expats add to their margin will be nothing more than coals to Newcastle. The Left, the peace camp, can no longer hope to change the country from within. From within, the Right continuously grows more confident; the smearing of Naomi Chazan and the New Israel Fund is only the latest evidence.

For the Left, the domestic political arena is scorched earth. We have to go outside, we have to turn our sights abroad. We have to convince the liberal West and liberal Diaspora Jews that if they go on letting Israel off the hook for the occupation, this country is only going to get more fearful and aggressive, more xenophobic, more intolerant of criticism, more of a danger to itself and others.

We have to convince the West that the only way our body politic will heal itself is if Israelis find out there is a terrible price to pay for being a bully – you end up without friends.

It’s only when Israelis are faced with that alternative that they will end the siege of Gaza and the occupation of the West Bank. And at that point, it will be a lot easier for a right-wing leader to coax the public along than it would be for a left-winger, anyway. It’s not an accident that the only prime ministers who’ve ever dared uproot settlers were Menachem Begin and Ariel Sharon, two nationalist superheroes.

So while I’m against letting the expats vote from a civic, apolitical viewpoint, from the angle of party politics, I don’t care. Let them vote, let them boost the totals for Likud, Israel Beiteinu, National Union, let them pile on for the Right as much as they may. Ultimately, it’s the democratic world – the world Israel wants to remain a part of – that will decide this country’s future. Ultimately, the people here – and the Israelis who’ve moved abroad, too – will take their political cue from the democratic world’s decision.


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