Israelis residing abroad deserve voting rights

All the way back in 2009, Knesset member Moshe Arens proposed a law that would grant absentee voting rights to non-resident Israelis.

Israel's Knesset building (photo credit: MARC ISRAEL SELLEM/THE JERUSALEM POST)
Israel's Knesset building
When I tell people I support voting rights for Israeli citizens who live outside of Israel, the reaction is often, “What? You mean they’re not allowed to vote?” That’s right. Many of us don’t realize it, but it’s true. Israelis living abroad do not have the right to vote. More accurately, they do have it, but to actually vote, they are required to have an address in Israel and to be there on the day of the vote.
Now put yourself in the shoes of an Israeli living in the US. (That’s where the majority of non-resident Israelis live.) He or she would need to take several days off work in order to take a 10-to-15 hour flight (assuming it’s direct), then deal with the jet lag that comes with a seven-to-10 hour time difference and do it all again on the way back. On top of that, there’s the airfare, which won’t necessarily be the most affordable on those dates, plus all sorts of other travel expenses.
Frankly, the whole thing is ridiculous. More importantly, it’s an extremely anti-democratic policy that blatantly discriminates between some Israelis and others. To demonstrate what I mean, I’ll use an extreme example: Israeli convicts have the right to vote. In fact, during elections, the Interior Ministry has voting booths set up inside the prisons so inmates can vote. All prisoners, even the ones convicted of the most heinous crimes, can still vote. Yigal Amir, the man who assassinated Yitzhak Rabin – may he rest in peace – can still vote. Israeli Arabs incarcerated for acts of terrorism can and do vote.
But for scores of Israelis whose only crime is living abroad, it’s tough luck.
To be precise, I should mention that Israelis sent abroad on a public mission are permitted to vote at their local Israeli consulate. This applies to diplomats, employees of the Jewish Agency or the Jewish National Fund, etc.
Of course, this only describes a tiny fraction of Israelis living abroad. During the last Knesset elections in 2015, outside of Israel, just 6,250 Israelis in the entire world had the right to vote. Yet there are more than half a million Israelis living
This issue is nothing new. All the way back in 2009, Knesset member Moshe Arens proposed a law that would grant absentee voting rights to non-resident Israelis. The proposal was included in the agreement of the current coalition, which was formed in the last elections in 2015. Yet so far, nothing has been done about it.
AND SO, the policy that deprives hundreds of thousands of Israelis of their most fundamental democratic right – the right to vote – remains in place. What makes it all the more outrageous is that, over the course of the last century, every other modern democracy has decided to grant their non-resident citizens the right to vote. In addition to these democratic nations, roughly 100 others throughout the world have done the same.
So why is it that Israel, a modern democracy, the famous “Start-Up Nation,” has fallen so far behind in this respect?
The answer dates all the way back to the first decades of the young State of Israel, when life was especially hard. At the time many families were leaving Israel. The vast majority of them were fleeing economic hardships. Those who left were often seen in a bad light. They were branded as yordim. Worse yet, in 1976, Yitzhak Rabin referred to this wave of migrants as nepolet shel nemoshot – roughly translated as “wimps dropping out.”
Since then, more than 40 years have gone by, and the world has changed tremendously. In my humble opinion, we need to put an end to this nonsense already. For one thing, many of those who left have been coming home. According to the Central Bureau of Statistics, between 1990 and 2015, a total of 230,000 Israelis moved back home.
For another, let’s remember that we’re living in the age of globalization. How fair is it to take the vote away from a senior executive of Check Point Software or Teva who was transferred to a foreign subsidiary for a few years? How about a university professor on sabbatical? Or a student pursuing postgraduate studies? What of all the soldiers who, after risking their lives to defend us for three years or more, decide to go relax for a while in Latin America or make some money on a farm in Australia? If a war breaks out, these same soldiers will rush to the nearest airport to get home to Israel.
I could go on and on. The bottom line is that it’s pointless and really unfair that in the 21st century, we are still depriving perfectly decent citizens of their voice, while terrorists rightfully rotting in jail can go right on voting.
It’s time to give non-resident Israelis the right to vote. Moreover, we need to utilize their presence abroad to the benefit of the nation in order to widen Israel’s economic, educational, cultural and linguistic reach, just like every other enlightened democracy in the world.
Let’s put the nepolet shel nemoshot behind us and move toward becoming am echad.
We are one people, united.
The writer is an economist, a businessman and a candidate for the 21st Knesset for the Zehut party, founded by Moshe Feiglin.