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’Right and Left’ on the Right to Vote

A bill to permit Israelis outside the country to vote may be more limited than thought. The assumption it will help the ”right” may not be valid.
By Tzvi Ben Gedalyahu
First Publish: 2/10/2010, 1:44 PM / Last Update: 2/10/2010, 2:21 PM

Israel news photo

Political parties have drawn the line between right and left on the “right to vote” for Israelis outside the country, but the effects of such a law may be far less significant than thought. A bill extending the right to vote to expatriates still is in the draft stages.

The current law restricts the right to vote to Israelis who are in the country on Election Day, except for diplomats and government workers overseas. Following a coalition agreement on the issue, Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu has backed the Yisrael Beiteinu (Israel Our Home) party proposal to extend the voting right to all Israelis, regardless of where they live.

The Absorption Ministry estimates that approximately 750,000 Israeli citizens live outside the country, though only about 500,000 are of voting age. Furthermore, the Likud version of the bill would restrict voting rights to those who have been in Israel for at least 40 days during the six years prior to the election. The actual number of citizens outside the country and who would be allowed to vote is therefore closer to 200,000.

Several demographers and political analysts have questioned the assumption that extending the right to vote would help “right-wing parties,” such as Yisrael Beiteinu, the Likud, National Union and the Jewish Home parties, and would work against Labor and hareidi religious parties.

Coalition members Labor and Shas have come out against the proposal, despite the coalition agreement to which they are signed, and Kadima has also said it will vote against the measure if it reaches the Knesset floor. Kadima leader Tzipi Livni (pictured at left) charged that Prime Minister Netanyahu “has proved that he is prepared to sell the country’s future out to his political partners,” meaning Yisrael Beiteinu.

“The right to determine Israel’s fate must lie in the hands of those who live in Israel and are willing to bear the brunt of their decisions,” she added.

However, Dr. Tamir Sheafer, Hebrew University professor of communications and politics, told The Media Line, “There is a myth or general belief that Israelis living abroad are more right-wing. But it's difficult to know because we don't have demographic studies about this. We don't know what the turnout would be and we don't know who would come to vote."

“What we do know," she said, "is that Israelis who returned to Russia are likely to vote for the right and Lieberman, who is leading the initiative. On the other hand, public opinion in Europe is [very much against the Israeli presence in Judea and Samaria]. Maybe Israelis who live there accept this premise and would vote left-wing."

Dr. Ron Breiman, a member of the National Union party, also doubts the assumption that “Israelis overseas would vote for Likud or Yisrael Beiteinu."  

Dr. Chaim Shein, a professor at Shaarei Mishpat Law College, told Arutz-7 that the political ramifications of the proposal overshadow a more fundamental issue of whether a Zionist country should allow citizens outside the country to vote. He said that although the United States allows expatriates to file absentee ballots and some European countries do so with a time limit, the situation is different in Israel. Israel is a small country, and 200,000 voters can have a significant effect on election results, caused by people who are not personally affected by the life and death decisions Israeli governments have to make. He suggested a ten year time limit spent living out of Israel for absentee voters as a possible solution.