Hordes of Israelis showed up at voting stations across the country on Tuesday to determine the future of the state. Yet the number of people who voted could have and should have been far greater.
No, I’m not referring to those Israelis who opted to sit this election out. Voter turnout was in fact relatively high compared to that of other democratic countries. The problem lies elsewhere: Israel is one of the few remaining countries not to allow its citizens to cast a ballot overseas.
The roots of the matter are well-known and even historically justified. A young Israel sought to fight the phenomenon of Jews leaving the country and certainly did not want to allow those who left for good to determine who the leader of those fighting for the Jewish state’s existence would be. A lot has changed since then, and all things considered, we should allow all those who, for one reason or another, are outside of the country to take part in the election.
Voting is a basic right in democratic regimes, one that is usually even afforded to criminals. Israelis overseas are not criminals. It’s no coincidence, then, that almost all properly functioning states, and those that would like to be seen as such, allow their citizens to vote from outside of the country. Many of them even run campaigns to inform every single citizen of his or her right to vote and how exactly to go about it.
Israel, of course, does not have to blindly adopt the policies of other countries on the matter, although there are three reasons why it should allow overseas voting.
In today’s global world, the people chiefly affected by the current situation are the hundreds of thousands of Israelis who live in the country, but for one reason or another are stuck overseas. The coronavirus pandemic may have left us stuck at home, but in routine times, many Israelis are overseas for short trips for work, vacation and other personal reasons, perhaps medical ones.
Israel is connected to the world in a million ways, and behind these connections are good Israelis. Why would you choose to punish a high-tech employee sent to visit a client if his business trip happens to fall on election day?
The time has also come to adopt a different approach to Israelis residing overseas for longer periods of time. They haven’t necessarily said goodbye to our country forever. It is the State of Israel’s direct interest to bolster ties with them, instead of viewing them as lost sons
We invest a great deal of resources in increasing Israel-Diaspora ties, and through the smallest of investments and a symbolic but meaningful act, we have the ability to keep this connection from disappearing. An Israeli residing overseas who votes in the Knesset elections would continue to see himself as one of us. Wouldn’t that be an impressive achievement?
Finally, allowing Israelis to vote overseas would have a welcome and practical impact on the outcome of elections. While some may be on the left and others on the right, none wants to see the destruction of the Jewish state. Therefore, when Jews in Moscow, New York and Paris vote in an election, it will have no impact on the relationship between the Zionist right and left. It will, however, decrease the power of the anti-Zionist forces at work in the Knesset. That alone should be justification for the move.
This article first appeared in Israel Hayom.