NEW YORK – Shahar Azran has lived in New York City for 30 years. The dual Israeli-US citizen has adopted one of America’s oldest political practices during his decades in the states – getting out the vote.
With Israel gearing up to hold parliamentary elections for an unprecedented fourth time in two years on March 23, Azran, 52, isn’t letting fear of the COVID-19 pandemic or travel restrictions stop him from casting his vote for Israel’s next prime minister, even if that means spending $1,000 on airfare for a five-day trip that won’t include seeing much more than a polling station.
“I’m very involved politically. My kids are living in Israel and I’m there about 12 times a year,” Azran, who works as a photographer and media consultant, told The Jerusalem Post. “I don’t necessarily think I should be allowed to vote for who runs the show in Israel anymore, because I haven’t lived in Israel for so long. I’m a citizen of Israel but not a resident. But for as long as I have the right to vote, it’s important that I do everything I can to implement it. Israel is still extremely important to me, and it’s hard for me to see what’s going on there.”
Unlike Americans, Israelis for the most part are not allowed to vote by absentee ballot.
With seemingly endless voting, coupled with coronavirus fears, many Israelis abroad are opting to save the hassle and airfare cost. But Azran won’t sit this one out. He was “extremely concerned” he wouldn’t be allowed into Israel to vote when the country shut down its skies in late January as a measure of reducing coronavirus spread.
Azran has received both doses of the coronavirus vaccine, but said he would have taken a risk and made the Election Day trip even if he was not vaccinated.
“I want to vote so that my kids can have a better life there, and maybe I will even move back one day,” he said.
RUTH PELED, a Manhattan-based travel agent, is also fully inoculated. But the 68-year-old said she and her husband still have air travel on hold.
“When we do feel safe flying again, we want to visit our daughter in California. That’s more of a priority than going to Israel to vote,” she told the Post.
Peled expressed apathy toward returning to her birth country for elections, even if it weren’t for an ongoing pandemic. “It’s never been important to me in previous elections. We travel for the sake of family and love of Israel but never for the sake of voting.”
She noted her Israeli peers also living on Manhattan’s Upper East Side are politically minded, but to her knowledge none are returning home for the election.
“We have a lot of arguments about both US and Israeli politics and we all follow Israeli news to stay updated, but I haven’t heard of anyone making that effort to go back to vote,” she said.
A select group of Israelis serving the country abroad are eligible to vote at their local consulate. This includes members of the IDF and workers for the Jewish Agency, Keren Kayemeth LeIsrael-Jewish National Fund, United Israel Appeal or the World Zionist Organization.
At the Consulate-General of Israel in New York City, the largest polling station outside of Israel, Election Day was held on March 11. Itay Milner, a consulate spokesman, told the Post that 600 registered voters showed up, 200 people fewer than in the previous election, likely due to the migration of New Yorkers fleeing to the suburbs during the pandemic.
Still, Milner called the operation a “success” and noted that overall voter turnout was higher than in the March 2020 election – 69% compared to 55%.
“We don’t know exactly why the voter turnout was higher this time,” Milner said. “It could be, because of the pandemic, less people want to travel, so more people voted in New York.”
Azran expressed belief that all Israelis abroad should be given the option to vote absentee – especially amid the pandemic.
“I’m fortunate that I can afford the flight, but it’s not fair that’s what gives me the right to vote. I wish I wouldn’t have to make the trip,” he said. “That’s a main difference between the US and Israel. It’s so much easier to vote in American elections.”