Move for Absentee Voting Prompts Fire Across the Political Spectrum

Netanyahu to push bill that would enable Israeli citizens to vote from abroad in Knesset elections.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Yisrael Beiteinu head Avigdor Lieberman announced Monday that they intend to promote a bill that would let Israeli citizens vote from abraod in Knesset elections. The parallel announcements appeared to be coordinated.

Coalition parties Shas and Labor oppose the bill, as do many opposition parties.

Kadima filed a no-confidence motion against the government over its intention "to enable people not living in Israel to vote in the elections and determine the fate of those living here."

"All decisions for Israel's future must be determined only by those who chose to live here and shape its future," party sources said.

At the start of a Likud faction meeting Monday, Netanyahu promised to enact this legislation, which he believes will bolster citizens' ties to the country. "This is acceptable in many countries," he noted.

A short while later, Lieberman began a meeting of his party's MKs, which, in an unusual move, was open to the media. Lieberman expressed his satisfaction with the gains Yisrael Beiteinu had made in the last year and announced that, as stated in the coalition agreement, a year after the elections a bill would be prepared for a law making it possible for Israelis living abroad to vote.

A bill has already been prepared by Yisrael Beiteinu MKs that would amend the Election Law and allow citizens eligible to vote ("those holding a valid Israeli passport for 10 years") to vote in Knesset elections even though they do not live in Israel. "In the age of globalization, when many citizens live abroad because of their business affairs, they should be allowed to participate in elections through the Israeli missions abroad, as is customary in most democracies of the world," MKs Alex Miller and David Rotem wrote in justifying the bill.

In response to the bill, Kadima head, MK Tzipi Livni, said that "the privilege of determining the fate of Israel must be in the hands of those living in Israel and are willing to pay the price of their decisions in elections, for better or for worse. I believe that we must encourage Israelis to return to Israel, but the right to determine what will happen in the state needs to be reserved only for those who chose to base their future here."

The opposition leader blamed the prime minister for "proving that he is willing to sell out the future of the country to his political partners only for the sake of keeping his coalition intact."

Former Jewish National Fund chairman, MK Zeev Bielski (Kadima), expressed his strong opposition to the initiative. "The prime minister's proposal, which is part of his coalition promises to Lieberman, to give the right to vote to half a million Israelis living abroad, casts a heavy shadow over Zionism. The State of Israel is a state with unique characteristics, and the vote on election day determines not only the quality of life in the country, but also our fate. In other words, the decisions on acts of war and peace. Anyone who does not live in Israel does not bear responsibility for the results and we, who live here, will bear the consequences."

It is expected that the Yisrael Beiteinu bill will be replaced by a "softer" version, so that Shas and Labor will be able to back it.

In terms of numbers, Yisrael Beiteinu has an obvious interest in its ability to tap the votes of some 95,000 Israeli citizens currently living in the former Soviet Union, most of whom are former immigrants who returned.