Sunday, November 4, 2012


Under the heading on the right "WHO AM I AND WHY AM I HERE," I say "no partisan politics." That does not mean I cannot address a political question from time to time and indeed there are some Israel-related political blogs under the "OTHER PEOPLES' STUFF" heading further down the page.

The question of expatriate voting in US elections has been in the news both in Israel and in some US discussions during this election season and I have stated from time to time that - although I have the same right to vote as any other US citizen - I choose not to. Having been asked to explain that position, I have decided to do so here. And now.

Although I this is my fortieth year here in Israel, I remain very much attached to some aspects of the US experience and in particular I am a US-politics junkie. I read, watch and listen to much political content on the Internet and I am sure that I can name more US Senators than members of our own Knesset. (I used to follow Israeli politics closely, but  I pretty much tune it out until just before elections.)

My interest in US politics is not just because the US government has important interactions with Israel and not just because the US and Israel are both important parts of what we used to call "the free world," but also because the size, wealth and power of the US are all relevant to the general well-being of the rest of us. So it is in our interests for the US to be doing well.

The total population of US expatriates is small and in the case of those in Israel is diluted by the fact that most come from states like New York, New Jersey, California and Illinois which are not really competitive at the presidential level. (A person who is a citizen but has no operative address may only vote for president, not for Congress or local offices.)

But I ignore all this and take a pass on the right to vote.

Israel does not have absentee balloting. Well, it's not quite that absolute. There are mobile ballot boxes (we vote with a paper ballot here) that go around to army bases and they get to the most obscure places.  There is also a process for voting by Israelis who are abroad in government service - embassies, consulates etc. And for some class of sailors on merchant vessels. There may be some other categories I have forgotten, but all in all, it's a small number of people.

That is why we don't have summer elections - because certain parties worry that their voters are abroad on vacation. (Dates for early elections are traditionally negotiated among the parties, not set unilaterally by the government as in the UK, for instance.)

There are, however, huge numbers of Israelis living abroad. People who have been living abroad for years and who have no intention of returning. Our  system is proportional, with each party receiving Knesset seats according to its share of the vote.  (It isn't quite that simple, but that is the general idea.) There are enough Israelis abroad to account for probably ten or fifteen Knesset seats - maybe more - out of 120. Their interests are not our interests and their considerations are by and large not our considerations.

These expatriate Israelis could vote, of course, if they came here but they rarely do. At least not for the purpose of voting.

From time to time, some politician, often in concert with a media-type, tries to advance the idea that Israelis abroad should be allowed to vote. (They generally throw in "Like in normal countries.") It starts with the idea that they mean Israelis who live here but are away temporarily, but there is no controlling that once it gets started.

And the next thing you know, it will be done by email. What could possibly go wrong!

I am 100% against that kind of initiative, as I don't want to see large numbers of Israeli expatriates trying to affect our Knesset, for motives that have nothing to do with what is good for us.

It would be inconsistent of me to maintain that position while voting as an expatriate in US elections.
It's as simple as that.

Not everything you can do, should you do.

1 comment:

  1. I'm no closer to understanding you on this issue. If YOUR motive is to do something that is good for us, so what's the diff? Sorry, but everything you can do THAT IS GOOD, you should do. It's a Mitt-zvah.