Netanyahu pushes absentee ballot to allow Israelis abroad to vote

Herzog endorses Netanyahu-backed initiative.

 A voting box in the last Israeli election in 2015 (photo credit: REUTERS)
A voting box in the last Israeli election in 2015
(photo credit: REUTERS)
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is serious about passing absentee balloting for Israelis abroad and could take advantage of a new consensus on the matter, Likud minister Israel Katz told The Jerusalem Post on Wednesday.
Katz was appointed by Netanyahu to head a special ministerial panel on the issue in the previous government. Its findings led to bills by Likud MKs Yoav Kisch and Sharren Haskel that are ready to be advanced.
Netanyahu told Katz in Sunday’s cabinet meeting that now is the time to advance absentee balloting, following the endorsement of Jewish Agency chairman Isaac Herzog at last weekend’s Israeli-American Council national conference in Hollywood, Florida.
“In a mobile world, where people work and relocate and study, it’s about time for Israel to look differently at Israelis who are abroad, so I think Israelis abroad should be eligible to vote in Israeli elections,” Herzog said, earning applause from the crowd of 2,700 people that was dominated by Israelis currently living in the US.
Katz said Netanyahu would advance the issue, because it has traditionally been backed by the Right, and now Herzog was giving it a major endorsement from the Center-Left, as well as his backing as the Jewish Agency chairman, who deals with Diaspora Jewry.
“My camp for many years thought Israelis abroad would vote for only one side of the map,” Herzog said. “But now I don’t accept that at all. Israelis abroad are linked to Israel through the Internet, Whatsapp, Facebook and Twitter. It raises many questions, but the truth of the matter is countries all over the world enable their citizens abroad to vote.”
Until Herzog, the major backer of absentee balloting among the Center-Left was Zionist Union MK Nachman Shai, who drafted a bill on the issue but was forced to shelve it by his party’s leaders. Shai wrote in favor of absentee balloting in a newsletter he sent last week to his supporters.
“Times have changed, the world has shrunk, distances have diminished, mobility has increased and the ability to lead Israeli lives overseas is real and important,” Shai said. “The question is complicated. Participating in Israeli elections is not similar to the US, which enables Americans living abroad to participate in elections. Our situation is different and is undoubtedly worthy of public discourse.”
Yisrael Beytenu and Bayit Yehudi MKs said their parties are in favor. United Torah Judaism would likely back the move, which one MK said could benefit UTJ more than any other party. A Yesh Atid spokesman said his party “generally doesn’t take positions on theoreticals.”
Deputy Minister in the Prime Minister’s Office Michael Oren told the Post on Thursday that he had done extensive research on the matter and submitted it to his Kulanu Party leader Moshe Kahlon eight months ago, but he is still waiting for a response.
“When it comes to voting abroad, there are problems particular to the Israeli model,” Oren said.”I would be in favor if there are special criteria for voting, like paying Israeli taxes, owning property in Israel and doing reserve duty in the IDF.”