Letting Expatriates Vote - a Blow to Israeli Zionism

A proposed bill would give the vote only to Israelis who have been abroad less than four years, providing they declare their intent to return to Israel.

Nobody today would dare propose giving hundreds of thousands of Israelis living abroad the right to vote for the Knesset. Everyone understands that such a step is neither democratic nor Zionist. Undemocratic because it gives the right to take part in political decisions to people who will not bear the consequences. Non-Zionist because it would blur the significant distinction between Israel and the Diaspora and legitimize leaving the country.

A more modest proposal is being made these days - to give the vote only to Israelis who have been abroad less than four years, providing they declare their intent to return to Israel.

Attempting to allay fears, the bill's sponsors say it would not involve hundreds of thousands of voters, but a small number who would "only" make a difference of one or two Knesset seats. On the surface this is a small step that would grant Israelis staying overseas for studies or temporary work the right to vote, but not those who have left Israel for good. In reality, though, the matter is more complicated.

Those who argue the additional voters would only make a difference of one or two seats in Knesset have apparently forgotten that the Oslo Accords passed by a 61 to 59 majority. One can imagine what would happen if a similarly fateful strategic decision were passed - or defeated - by such a majority, achieved with the expatriates' votes.

Also, what does the period "four years" mean - since the Israeli left the country, or since he last visited? Many Israelis who left Israel permanently visit occasionally. Would such a stopover be taken into consideration or not, and who would keep tabs?

Then there is the issue of the declaration of intent to return to Israel. Is there any way to verify such an intent? And if it turned out the Israel did not return, it obviously would be impossible to retroactively disqualify his vote.

The legislative proposal simply throws sand in the public's eyes. Moreover, since we know how things work here, once the floodgates open we will find ourselves on a slippery slope. Presumably, in a few years someone will propose extending the period to five or six years. People will claim more than four years are needed to complete an advanced degree and perhaps internship or job training as well. Some may propose a special exemption for those who are abroad due to an important job in high-tech or an investment company.

A committee will probably be set up to deal with special cases. The consequences - and the wheeling and dealing - can only be imagined. In time maybe someone will propose that proof of "affiliation to Israel" suffices - visits, maybe real estate holdings (owning an apartment that is rented out, for example ). After all, the imaginative powers of the Jewish genius are limitless.

The point is often made that U.S. citizens abroad retain the right to vote. True, but don't forget that an American living abroad must submit to U.S. tax authorities an annual report of his total income, both in the United States and overseas, and pay full taxes on it.

Some Israelis have lived abroad for years, complaining bitterly that they are not allowed to vote. I haven't heard any of them suggesting that Israel apply its tax laws to them.

In brief, and while deliberately skirting the possible political motives behind this proposal, the present arrangement is just, democratic and Zionist. Any change, even minimal, would damage justice, democracy and Zionism.