Vote early, vote often

By voting in the US elections, immigrants serve Israel and America alike.

Barack Obama with wife at Ohio rally 370 (photo credit: REUTERS/Kevin Lamarque )
Barack Obama with wife at Ohio rally 370
(photo credit: REUTERS/Kevin Lamarque )
I thought I’d heard all the arguments for why American immigrants to Israel shouldn’t vote in US elections, but Elliot Jager managed to come up with a new one: Voting, he wrote, would be “a betrayal of my Zionist bona fides,” because “answering the Zionist call for the ingathering of the Jewish people in the land of Israel necessitates, perforce, abdication of involvement in the political affairs of one's former homeland.”
That one really stunned me. How can something that is good for both Israel and its closest ally possibly be a betrayal of Zionism?
It goes without saying that the American alliance is critical to Israel. America provides crucial diplomatic support on numerous issues, and no other country is currently willing and able to replace it in this role. Thus if there’s any “betrayal of Zionism” here, it would seem to lie in not voting: An immigrant who has the power to strengthen this alliance with his vote but chooses not to do so is in effect deliberately choosing not to help his new country.
That, however, leads directly to the more common objection to absentee voting, which Jager also mentions: If your real concern is Israel rather than America, isn’t it “exploitative” to vote?
Not at all – because Israelis have a vested interest in a strong, thriving America. The reason the US is such a critical ally is precisely because of its superpower status: An ally with little influence in the world would be much less valuable. Thus any Israeli who cares about the alliance must also care about America’s well-being, if only out of pure national self-interest.
Most immigrants, however, also have a personal interest in America’s well-being, because they leave relatives and friends behind when they come. Since any citizen’s well-being is inextricably tied to the well-being of his country, if you care about the welfare of your family and friends, you can’t help but care about America’s welfare.
Granted, the entire argument breaks down if you subscribe to the theory that the American-Israeli alliance is bad for America. But if, like a majority of Americans, you believe the alliance is good for America – whether because you believe America is better served by allying with those who share its values, or because of the strategic benefits Israel provides (a former secretary of state once called it “the largest American aircraft carrier in the world that cannot be sunk, does not carry even one American soldier, and is located in a critical region for American national security”), or even for religious reasons (“I will bless those that bless you,” God promises Abraham in Genesis 12:3) – then voting to strengthen the alliance cannot be seen as detrimental to American interests.
There may, of course, be times when the candidate who seems best for the American-Israel alliance isn’t the one who seems best on, say, economic or social issues.  Personally, I’ve found such cases to be few and far between in 25 years as an absentee voter, but they do exist. Yet in this, an overseas voter is no different from a domestic voter who must choose which of two competing values to accord higher priority. As long as you believe both values are an American interest, either is a legitimate choice.
Finally, there’s the undeniable fact that successive American governments, Democratic and Republican alike, explicitly chose to grant the vote even to people who have left America for good – something they presumably wouldn’t have done  if they deemed this contrary to America’s interests. There is even a special federal ballot for such citizens, which allows them to vote for president, senators and congressmen but not for state and local offices.
Granted, this is a somewhat unusual choice. Many countries, Israel included, do not allow expatriates to vote, whether because they fear expatriates do not have their former country’s best interests at heart or simply because they find it objectionable for expatriates to have a say in the country’s policies when they won’t have to live with the consequences of those policies.
But from an American perspective, there are perfectly valid reasons for this choice: Because America has chosen to make all its citizens, even those living abroad, liable for US taxes, denying overseas residents the vote would effectively constitute taxation without representation. This is the very issue over which the American Revolution began, and the principle of “no taxation without representation” remains deeply embedded in the American ethos. Thus it’s certainly reasonable to conclude that the importance of upholding this ethos outweighs the downsides of allowing permanent overseas residents to vote.
I find it easier to understand why Israeli immigrants from Europe, for instance, might object to voting in their former countries. They may feel a real conflict of interests, because given the hostility many European countries display toward Israel, these countries’ well-being isn’t necessarily congruent with Israel’s own from a diplomatic standpoint – though it is from an economic one, since Europe is Israel’s largest export market.
Even here, however, I think the arguments for voting are decisive if one candidate is more or less pro-Israel than the other. The country itself has clearly decided that expatriate votes serve its interests, and a pro-Israel candidate clearly serves Israel’s interests. And there’s no conflict of interests as long as you believe, as I do, that Europe would be better off supporting the one Middle Eastern country that shares the West’s values rather than all the ones that don’t. This, it should be noted, is also the view of some very prominent Europeans: See, for instance, the Friends of Israel Initiative, whose founders include former Spanish Prime Minister Jose Maria Aznar and former Czech President Vaclav Havel.
But for immigrants from America, whose interests are so closely aligned with Israel’s, I can’t even see why there should be a question: An absentee vote serves Israel and the US alike. And it’s not too late to get your ballot for November.
The writer is a journalist and commentator.