Israelis abroad lament lack of absentee balloting

Israel has no absentee balloting, except for official diplomats in the foreign service and emissaries of the Jewish Agency.

Jerusalemite Liron Ortasse-Shpigel (photo credit: COURTESY PR)
Jerusalemite Liron Ortasse-Shpigel
(photo credit: COURTESY PR)
Some 5,000 Israeli diplomats and emissaries cast ballots in embassies and consulates last week, but the number of Israelis abroad is closer to 500,000, according to the Central Bureau of Statistics.
Israel has no absentee balloting, except for official diplomats in the foreign service and emissaries of the Jewish Agency. Attempts to pass a law enabling absentee balloting were started by the late former foreign minister Moshe Arens some 20 years ago and raised many times since then.
According to a recent study by the Israel Democracy Institute, half of the public supports letting Israelis vote abroad, including 52% of right-wingers, 48% of left-wingers and 55% of centrists.
German elections let their citizens vote if they have been out of the country for up to 25 years. In England, it is 15 years, Australia six, Canada five, New Zealand three and Turkey six months.
Ifat Zolotowski has been living in Dublin for a year, because her husband works for Microsoft’s office in the Irish capital. Zolotowski, 33, said she wished she could come to Israel to vote next Tuesday, but she did not have the time or money to leave behind her two small children and come vote in her Israeli home town Givatayim.
“Israel is my home and I will come back,” she said in a phone interview from Ireland. “I pay taxes and national insurance. I didn’t leave Israel because of not liking the country. It is important to me that things will be good in Israel. My voice must be heard in the ballot box.”
Jerusalemite Liron Ortasse-Shpigel is a Hebrew University law student currently studying at the Seoul National University in Korea as an exchange student. Ortasse-Shpigel, 26, said students on her program from other countries do not understand why she cannot vote.
“It’s important to me as a civilian to exercise my basic political right to vote,” she said. “I feel very connected to my country, through speaking to family and checking the news. I am only here for a semester. It’s very far away, and I don’t have the money to go home to vote.”
Attorney Moti Cohen – who heads Passportogo, which helps Israelis obtain citizenship in European countries – estimated that as many as 10 mandates are wasted by preventing Israelis abroad from voting.
“Giving a man the right to vote strengthens his connection to the state,” Cohen said. “Exercising that right should not be taken from good Israelis who pay taxes, served in the IDF and whose focus of life is in Israel.”
Cohen said the impression Israelis have of those who go abroad has changed completely since they were known as “yordim” (those who go down) and Yitzhak Rabin called them “leftover weaklings.”
“Israelis who go abroad for work or school are no less patriotic or Israeli,” Cohen said. “The world has become more global. The problem is solvable.”