A Cynical Post-Zionist Proposal
The Jerusalem Report, March 15, 2010
Once every few years a "new" initiative to allow israelies living abroad to vote in israeli elections in the countries where they reside comes up in the Knesset. These proposals are usually the handiwork of right-wing parties or individuals who interestingly enough, have no record in human-rights legistlation or activities. And there is no little irony in the fact that the present initiative to allow all Israelis to excercise their inalienable rights comes from none other than the Yisrael Beiteinu (Israel Is our Home) party. whose record on legistlation intended to limit the voting rights of the Arab citizens of Israel is well-known.
The current proposal enjoys the full endorsement of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu under the pretext that it will enable Israelis living abroad to feel closer to Israel. in meeting with the Likud faction in the Knesset, Netanyahu added that this would make the country stronger.
This, however, is most disingenuous. The motivation behind the proposed legistlation is purely political. It is meant to marginilise the Arab citizens' vote by artificially enlarging the precentage of jewish voters, and, at the same time, strenghtening the parties of the right.
Six years ago, a senior Likud member examined the political leanings of Israelis living in the United States. He concluded that if around a quarter of a million of them were allowed to cast absentee ballots, at least two seats in the Knesset would move from the left to the right-wing parties.
The report reached Netanyahu's desk and convinced him that this was well worth the effort. after all, with the dramatic shrinking of the once large parties, two seats can be critical in the making or breaking of a government coalition. And since the inclination of those who live far away is usually to support hawkish right-wing policies, the consequences of which they do not have to bear, bringing them into the voting pool is clearly calculated to maintain a right-wing majority in the Knesset ad infinitum. This is the prime minister's idea of "making Israel stronger".
Similarly, the mainly russian immigrant Yisrael Beiteinu stands to gain from the fact that an estimated 100,000-200,000 immigrants from the former Soviet Union have, over the years, returned to their former home countries, some after only very brief sojourns in israel.
Cynical political expedience aside, the main objection to the proposed legistlation is that it is neither democratic nor moral. What's more - allowing Israeli citizens who have chosen to make their homes abroad to vote runs counter to the Zionist ethos.
The fundamental right to vote in a democracy is based on the premise that the legitimacy of any government comes from the people and their choices, and that ultimately it is the people who bear the consequences of government decisions. Indeed, the moral justification of the democratic system stems from the fact that those who participate in the decision-making process pay the price for their decisions. In the United States, this principle is embodied in the notion "no taxation without representation" and its corollary - "no representation without taxation".
Israel is still in the early stages of statehood. Critical decisions on its future borders, its identity and its relations with its neighbors lie ahead.
It is morally imperative that such fateful decisions on war and peace, life and death, the quality of our lives here, be taken by those who live here and have decided to tie their fate to ours. It is they, and only they, who have a right to decide.
During my various terms of duty as an Israeli diplomat abroad, i met numerous Israelis, residents or citizens of their new, sometimes old, countries. They had made a deliberate chice to live elsewhere, to detach themselves from Israel. This is their choice and i respect it. Some left to study, started a new family and remained abroad; others left to join family; still others pursued better career opportunities and more comfortable lives.
Some of these Israelis - their number is estimated at somewhere between half a million and 700,000 - occupy important positions in academe, business, media and politics of other countries. I don't think they should be given the responsibilty of deciding whether our children go to war, or whether in a leap of faith, we make peace with the Palestinians.
And there is, of course, the overriding considiration of Israel's Zionsit identity. The state of Israel was created as the national home of the jewish people. Jewish sovereignty is significant. Granting the right to vote to those who have chosen to leave blurs the distinction between Israeli citizens and Diaspora jews. Worse, it confers legitimacy on emigration from Israel. Far from "strengthening the country," as the prime minister claims, it weakens its very raison d'etre.
For tousands of years, Jews wandered in exile. Zionsim is an attempt to give us solid roots in our homeland. The proposed bill runs against the basic purpose of Zionsim: to enable Jews to be a free people rooted in our land.
Colette Avital, a former diplomat, labour knesset member and presidential candidate, is director of the Labour Movement's Berl Katznelson fund.