Absentee ballots considered for Israelis living abroad (LA TIMES) Batsheva Sobelman JERUSALEM, ISRAEL 03/27/12 12:00 pm)
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REPORTING FROM JERUSALEM--It´s easy to vote in Israel. No prior
registration. No other paperwork. If you´re a citizen, just show up
at the polls and be at least 18 years old.
At the same time, it´s almost impossible for Israelis abroad to cast
election ballots. Unlike many nations including the U.S., Israel does
not allow expatriates to cast absentee ballots. Only those abroad on
official business such as diplomatic service are allowed to
participate in elections for parliament and prime minister without
returning home to vote. In the last election, this amounted to 5,600
Now, the office of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is advancing an
initiative to allow Israeli citizens residing abroad to cast absentee
ballots. The measure, variants of which have been shot down in the
past, could affect hundreds of thousands of Israeli citizens out of
the country for business or studies, or living elsewhere permanently.
Some estimate about 550,000 Israeli citizens reside abroad -- most
notably in Los Angeles and New York -- while others say the numbers
could be as high as 1 million, making it one out of every eight
Proponents say voting is an inherent right of citizenship, regardless
of one´s place of residence. Besides, they say, Israel´s current law
is archaic in a global reality: If people can hop on a plane to vote,
they should be allowed to simply vote abroad.
Those opposed say Israeli citizens who do not live with the results
of elections should not be allowed to influence them. Besides, some
say, being Israeli is more about the experience of life in Israel
than about citizenship itself.
Lurking behind the philosophical arguments is a political issue: Many
assume most expat votes would go to right-wing and conservative
parties who support Netanyahu, the initiative´s sponsor.
American citizens, for their part, can vote from abroad with absentee
ballots, although they do have to register weeks in advance. In the
last U.S. elections, 42,000 of the 250,000 American citizens (half of
them eligible voters) in Israel registered to vote. According to exit
polls, they heavily favored Republican John McCain.
For years, many Israelis held their expats in disregard, reflected in
the negative judgmental word "yordim" -- "those who descend." They
were mocked and dismissed as softies who opted out for an easier
environment. But today´s government leaders want them back and are
encouraging them to return to Israel.
A recent campaign trying to coax Israelis to return from the
U.S. "before Hanuka turned into Christmas" went overboard and
offended some American Jews. But a study carried out by the Jewish
People Policy Institute for Netanyahu´s office said that granting
absentee voting during the first four years of Israelis´ residence
abroad could have a positive effect on strengthening their identity
and ties to the country.
Despite a persistent buzz about early elections, Israel, at least for
now, is not due to have national elections until late 2013.
(Copyright © 2012 Los Angeles Times 03/27/12)
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