Voting on election day is recognized as a fundamental right of the citizens of a democratic country. So as not to deprive of this basic right citizens who happen to be abroad on the day the elections are held, almost all democracies nowadays provide for an absentee ballot - the opportunity to vote while abroad. In the age of globalization, with numerous citizens out of the country at election time, this has become the standard practice of democracies. But not in Israel, whose citizens abroad are deprived of exercising their right to vote.
Legislation passed by the Knesset some years ago was intended as a minor correction of this anomaly. Government employees sent abroad have been afforded the possibility to vote while out of the country. It actually turned out to be a piece of discriminatory legislation, giving preference to government employees while continuing to deprive all others of their fundamental right. If you are an employee of the Foreign Ministry, or for that matter of any other government ministry or the Jewish Agency, and have been posted abroad you are allowed to vote. But if you have been sent abroad by Israel Aircraft Industries or El Al, by Checkpoint or Elbit, or by the Israel Defense Forces, you are currently deprived of exercising the right to vote. The same is true for university professors on sabbatical, post-doctoral fellows or students studying at foreign universities, or citizens abroad on business - all are denied the right to participate in Israel's elections.
Why has this lacuna in Israel's legislation continued to this day? The argument generally offered is that Israelis who have taken up permanent residence outside Israel should not be allowed to participate in the country's decision-making process; that this would be a blatant transgression of the principles of Zionism. Not that only Zionists are allowed to vote on election day. For that matter, even those who have decided to leave Israel permanently can vote if they visit Israel on that day. But many thousands who have served in the IDF, done their reserve duty and paid their taxes and are temporarily abroad are denied that right.
The objections of those claiming to speak in the name of Zionist ideology would presumably be met if it were possible to unequivocally differentiate those Israelis who are abroad temporarily from others who have taken up permanent residence there. It turns out that it is not possible to accomplish this in a manner that would be definitive and ascertainable in short order. All such schemes that have been suggested are likely to get the voting procedure abroad bogged down in a quagmire of uncertainties and unprovable claims.
Thus even the national election results might be thrown into disarray in the process. Eligibility for voting abroad can only be based on official government documents and data in possession of the Interior Ministry that is easily accessible. Such data are Israeli passports and information stored at the ministry regarding dates of entry and exit from Israel. The right to vote abroad must therefore be based on these criteria. However, no matter how formulated, requirements based on these criteria while making it possible for all Israelis abroad temporarily to vote, would also make it possible for some Israeli citizens residing permanently abroad to participate in elections. The conundrum we are faced with is how many Israelis who are abroad temporarily should be deprived of their right to vote in order prevent others who are residing abroad permanently from voting.
The bill I am proposing, which is currently under discussion in the Knesset's Law Committee, provides that Israeli citizens in possession of a valid Israeli passport and who have been in Israel during the previous three years shall have the right to vote at Israeli embassies and consulates abroad. This would make it possible for all Israeli citizens who are temporarily abroad to vote, while opening that possibility also to Israeli citizens residing permanently abroad who have visited Israel during the past three years.
I believe that this strikes a reasonable balance between assuring a fundamental right to citizens abroad temporarily and the "risk" that some who reside permanently abroad will participate in the voting. It is high time we end the current discrimination against Israelis who are temporarily abroad.
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