Shas, Israel Beiteinu to battle over expatriate bill

Interior Minister Eli Yishai’s support crucial to legislation which would allow Israelis abroad to vote.

yishai looking sharp 224 (photo credit: Ariel Jerozolimski)
yishai looking sharp 224
(photo credit: Ariel Jerozolimski)
Shas chairman Eli Yishai holds the key to passing the bill that would enable expatriate Israelis to vote abroad, the bill’s primary sponsor, Israel Beiteinu MK Alex Miller, said Wednesday.
The bill will be debated for the first time at Sunday’s meeting of the Ministerial Legislation Committee, but it is not expected to come to a vote until April. When it does, it must be Yishai who submits the bill, because it falls under his jurisdiction as interior minister.
With Yishai’s backing, it would become a government-sponsored bill, which would require coalition discipline that could enable it to pass.
If Yishai opposes it, it would be a private member’s bill, which would have little chance of passing.
Shas officials said they intended to use that power to trim the bill significantly and make it apply only to people who have left Israel within two months of the election, a change Israel Beiteinu officials said would make it worthless. The Shas officials said the maximum they would allow is an Israeli who is abroad for a year.
“We will not let this bill be used to artificially expand the population of Israel for one day,” a source close to Yishai said. “Only people who really live here will be allowed to vote, not people who live abroad permanently.”
In private conversations, Shas and Israel Beiteinu officials admitted that their opinions about who the bill should apply to were based solely on improving the standing of their parties. Contrary to stories in the Hebrew press, the bill would not limit voting to people who served in the IDF or national service.
The bill is an amendment to the Law for Knesset Elections of 1969, and consists solely of adding words to an already-existing sentence. The law proposes to add, in the clause permitting absentee balloting for “a voter who is a state employee,” “a voter who is registered in the voting record and who has a current Israeli passport issued for at least ten years.”
Miller said that since all passports are issued for 10 years, his bill would enable any Israeli abroad to vote. He said he chose to include the absolute maximum as a starting point, knowing that he would have to compromise with other factions to ensure the bill’s passage.
Knesset Law Committee chairman David Rotem, who co-sponsored the bill, said that between now and April, he would negotiate a compromise with Shas on the time period that Israelis will be allowed to be abroad in order to vote.
Rotem accused the religious parties of hypocrisy for opposing the bill after they brought Israeli citizens to Israel from abroad to vote in past elections. He recalled that there was even a police investigation of the phenomenon following the 1996 election.
“It makes no sense that haredim can send people here by plane so that the only expatriates who can vote are people with money,” Rotem said.
Channel 2 reported Wednesday that a group of former IDF officers and security officials would advertise their opposition to the bill for Zionistic reasons. The group includes former Shin-Bet chief Ami Ayalon, and former generals Danny Rothchild, Elazar Stern and Aharon Ze’evi Farkash.
Rebecca Anna Stoil contributed to this report.