This is somewhat a detour from the usual MICT stuff, but I hope you forgive me as I think the topic is interesting.
The Israeli political scene seems to be very disturbed recently. No, it is not about the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, it is not about Iran, and it is not about about the recent tensions with Syria. The debate is about a proposal by the government to amend external voting in the law or in other words to allow Israeli citizens abroad to vote in the election (HE). I’ve heard this idea floating before, but I have never seen such a vibrant debate about this issue, which has recently become very close to my heart.
The situation today is that anybody holding an Israeli passport can vote in the Israeli election, but this person has to be physically present in Israel on the election day. If you are studying, working, or simply on vacation abroad during the election day, you cannot go to the consulate and vote. The only people entitled to vote remotely are diplomats and sailors.
The debate is happening on two levels. On one level, it is a purely political debate, because some believe that the voters living abroad tend to vote to the right and thus the government is pushing for the change of law and the opposition is vigorously opposing it (HE1, HE2, HE3). On another level, which constitutes most of the rhetoric, the debate is about values – should people who are not living in the country, particularly such country as Israel, be able to decide for those who will actually have to live with the consequences ? (HE1, HE2, HE3, He4, He5, HE6, HE7, HE8)
Some context may help understanding the later facet of the debate better. Ever since the establishment of the state, people moving to live in Israel were referred to as “olim” or people who are “coming up” to live in and build the country. On the other hand, people who left Israel to live elsewhere were referred to as “yordim,” meaning people who “stepped down,” left, deserted or abandoned the enterprise of building a Jewish state. Traditionally, it was completely unacceptable to leave the country. People who did that, and in fact their entire families, were frowned upon and looked down at. However, in the past decade or so the criticism softened and in fact Israel is experiencing a brain drain (there are about 500-700K holders of Israeli passports currently living abroad). The argument of those opposing the law thus resonates with the old sentiment and claims that the people who decided to abandon the not-so-luxurious Israeli realities have no right to decide for those who stayed. In Israel, they say, election are not just about social issues, which are also important, but they are also about existential topics like war and peace. If you are not going to live with the consequences of the vote, you shouldn’t have the right to vote, in the first place. If it is important for you to vote, you can invest in coming to Israel once in four years to do that.
And this is where it is getting personal for me I guess. It is getting personal because I couldn’t vote in the last election and given the frequency with which elections happen in Israel, I most probably won’t be able to vote in the next one as well. The issue I am taking with this situation can also be viewed on a couple of level. First, there is a financial and logistic concern. As a student, I simply cannot afford a random visit to Israel. No matter how much I care about the democracy, the Maslow principles are getting in the way (not to mention the fact that my life is pretty much dictated by the academic calendar). Second, there is a more substantive argument about my right to influence the reality of my country. At the end of the day you can take an Israeli out of Israel, but you cannot take Israel completely out of the Israeli. It starts with the fact that even though I am physically not in Israel at the moment, I am still influenced by the political decisions of its leaders (whether these are some of the taxes I am still paying or protests I encounter on campus, on street or anywhere else). But even more that that, as someone currently living abroad on a student visa, I think I should be able to influence the realities I am supposed to come back to upon completion of my studies. I may decide not to go back to Israel after I finish my PhD, but then it will be a totally different story; right now I don’t have any tools to influence the reality I am supposed to return to, which I think is counterproductive for the country if it wants me back (somewhat related HE).
I may be wrong, but at this point of my life it somehow makes sense (and apparently not just to me – HE1, HE2). Many of the arguments I read are dismissing any variation of making voting accessible to Israelis living abroad (here is an article in HE stating that 66% of Israelis oppose this idea). It is “either you are with us or you are against us,” which I find both outdated and counterproductive. There was a study triggered by this debate, which compared the external voting arrangements in other countries and showed how most of the world has reacted to globalization and to the fact that citizens who live abroad are still citizens of the country (PDF in HE). In fact, one of the proposed versions of the law is taking a moderate approach that limits the period when one could vote abroad to six years, subject to spending at least 40 days over that period in Israel (HE), but the public discourse neglects the details and focuses on the principle. This situation is similar to the arrangement in New-Zealand for example. To be fair, some people do say that students should be given the right to vote (HE), but I think that if such an arrangement will be accepted, let’s say with the conditions similar to what is stated above, it should cover not just the students, but everybody else as well.
I wonder if you have any thoughts on the subject and what the situation is in your country?