When U.S. elections take place, citizens who are outside the country line up at U.S. consulates and embassies to cast their votes.
Israelis are not permitted to do that.
Unlike citizens from scores of countries who may vote absentee, the estimated 1 million Israeli expatriates may not. That right is reserved only for those stationed at diplomatic missions. Others, including tens of thousands of Israelis living in Silicon Valley and around the Bay Area, are effectively disenfranchised — punished, really, for not being in Israel. None of them will have a voice in the Jan. 22 elections.
This is unjust, and many in Israel agree, including Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. He and his ruling coalition have tried to change the status quo.
So far, all proposed legislation, such as last year’s so-called Omri Casspi bill (named for the Israeli basketball star living in the United States), have not passed in the Knesset.
Those opposed to the change — among them author Amos Oz and former Minister of Education Shulamit Aloni — make a number of arguments, some more compelling than others.
They claim absentee voting could encourage diaspora Jews to attain citizenship under the Law of Return and potentially swing elections without living in the country. That seems a bit far-fetched. They also argue, more convincingly, that as a nation of immigrants, Israel should grant voting rights only to those who make the sacrifices necessary to build the country from within. Allowing expatriates to vote, they say, would be a slap in the face to those who stay.
Maybe so, but hurt feelings should not trump the most fundamental right in a democracy — having a voice in determining your nation’s future.
The ban on absentee voting is a relic from the days when Israelis who lived outside the country were scorned as “yordim,” those who have “gone down.” That is no longer Israeli government position, nor does it match the reality of our 21st-century world of telecommuting, job mobility and frequent study abroad.
Israel needs the strength and commitment of all of its citizens. It’s time to recognize those who live outside the borders — permanently or temporarily — as an integral part of Israel’s family, and lift from them the pariah status implied by this continued denial of their sovereign rights.
Democracy never comes cheaply. That is certainly true in the case of Israel, which pays a high price to remain the one true, open democracy in the Middle East.
The voices of the 1 million deserve to be heard. Israel, let them vote.