Netanyahu Proposes Israeli Expatriates Vote
I wanted to be conservative in my choice of blog title, but Dimi Reider really said it as it should be: Netanyahu invites the refugees to vote. Here is how Ynetnews portrays the story:
PM: We’ll let Israelis vote abroad
Netanyahu tells Likud faction his government plans to submit bill allowing every Israeli citizen to vote for Knesset from anywhere worldwide. ‘It will contribute to the connection and to Israel’s strength,’ he says.
As Dimi correctly notes, this is another subterfuge to reinforce the strength of the Israeli Jewish vote in the demographic battle with the Israeli Palestinian minority. It could also impact a decision to incorporate large portions of occupied territory with Palestinian population into Israel proper (like the area between the Wall and the Green Line. Avigdor Lieberman, whose idea this is, has also proposed ridding Israel of some of its Arab minority by declaring some of their territory de facto part of a new Palestinian state, while granting Israel the right to annex large portions of the Territories that contain settlers. This is yet another example of how the Kahanist right has inserted its far-right ideology into the political mainstream. I call it “transfer-lite.” The beauty of the voting proposal is Yvette can characterize it as a democratic reform that gives all Israeli citizens the right to a voice in their country’s affairs. It’s quite a coup for those who really are anything but democrats.
But as Reider points out, they are playing with fire. Because just as Israeli “refugees” may be allowed to vote in domestic elections, so too will Israeli Palestinian refugees apply for the same privileges. The fact that they were expelled from Israel and so denied their right to Israeli citizenship, which was granted to all their remaining fellow Israeli Palestinians, will likely not hold up in a legal setting. If the Israeli Supreme Court denies these individuals citizenship, then surely an International Court will find against Israel. Then the Palestinian refugees will assert their legitimate right.
Taken to its most extreme, the coalition could propose that even Diaspora Jews should take Israeli citizenship and vote in elections. Maybe they can even expedite it by having online applications: become an Israeli citizen from the comfort of your own home!
Similarly, settler extremists who are trying to render East Jerusalem Arab-rein by expropriating Arab property with the claim that it once belonged to Jews, are playing with fire. It will only be a very short matter of time before Palestinian refugee families expelled from their homes in Katamon, Rehavya, and Talpiot will lodge claims in Israeli or international courts for recognition of their deeds. What will the radical rightists do then? Will they argue that Jewish deeds are valid while Arab deeds aren’t? Well, if they had their druthers they’d merely say that Jews have such rights while Palestinians don’t. That anti-democratic approach might play well in their circles and even among the majority of Israelis, but it won’t play in Peoria, that is the rest of the world.
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19 thoughts on “Netanyahu Proposes Israeli Expatriates Vote – Tikun Olam תיקון עולם إصلاح العالم”
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I’m obviously hoping they don’t do this. But if they do, I hope it will backfire on Likud much in the way that allowing people of Italian descent – not expatriates, Italian descent (like having an Italian parent or grandparent) – to vote in Italian elections backfired on Silvio Berlusconi in 2006, costing him his job as Italian PM.
I have to admit I simply do not understand how these things work. Is it in deed the case that Netanyahu’s primary concern is to keep the coalition together and thus himself in power, hence to gain short-term advantage for himself, but for that is willing to sacrifice the future of the entire state as it is now? I mean what for? As I say, I just don’t understand…
Though I am leery of the reasons, and conditions, for which Lieberman wants to allow Israeli expatriates to vote, I don’t see anything wrong with it in principle. As an expatriate American living in Switzerland, I have the right to vote in US elections. I would be damned pissed off if that right was suppressed. Most Western countries offer the same right to their expatriate citizens. There are already plenty of reasons to criticize Israel. This rare expression of democracy should not be among them.
True, most countries in Europe and North America allow their expat citizens to vote but these countries don’t have refugees sitting in camps in neighbouring countries who want their houses back. Let’s assume it is a totally benign initiative and solely an attempt to make the state more democratic. Would you not then have to extend that initiative to these very refugees? That would be democratic but also the end of that state of Israel as we know it.
Frankly, I would applaud the end of Israel “as we know it.” Isn’t that the point of these discussions, to change Israel’s behavior?
Sure, a different Israel is desirable but do we want to get rid of it all together? I don’t know exactly how many Palestinians are out there who would actually return but probably enough to be a vast majority once they are back and we’d have one big state with a Jewish minority of what, 20, maybe 30 per cent, ceteris paribus. This is what Netanyahu’s government is risking and I doubt most Israelis would be ok with that. We should ask some!
Why would this apply? Most countries don’t generally allow American citizens whose parents and grandparents were from there to vote in elections (with some notable exceptions). Allowing expatriates with citizenship to vote in home elections (something which many countries permit) is a widely accepted practice.
It’s not a rare expression of democracy. The cynical calculation is that Israeli expats, at least the ones who will vote, are right wing & will give the preponderance of their votes to Likud & other rightist parties.
That is true, but it doesn’t affect whether or not such a scheme is really valid in a legal sense. As I mention below, there are other nations that allow expatriates to vote while abroad on a regular basis.
“Taken to its most extreme, the coalition could propose that even Diaspora Jews should take Israeli citizenship and vote in elections. Maybe they can even expedite it by having online applications: become an Israeli citizen from the comfort of your own home!”
I think you predicted fairly accurately where this is leading, there. Ugly consequences like accusations of dual loyalty and alienation from non-Jewish US citizens are likely part of the plan. For people like Lieberman, who mistake politics for war, being entirely fixated on territory and manpower, anything that makes Jews immigrate to Israel is good. Even if it’s consciously provoked hostility.
This is a flimsy argument, Richard. The expatriates in question have Israeli citizenship, and many countries (the United States included) allow their expatriate citizens to vote in certain home elections.
Nor does having ancestors who once lived in an area now under the control of a different state give them the right to citizenship in that state. We don’t, for example, demand that Irish-Americans have the right to vote in Irish elections because their ancestors were pushed out of Ireland by famine, poverty, and the British and they were thus “denied the right to Irish citizenship”.
The precedent would be rather extensive and dangerous, which is why I think this is unlikely.
I’m not talking about ancestors. I’m talking about the expelled themselves. Plus, the offspring of the expelled never had a chance to obtain Israeli citizenship because their parents were expelled. So no other countries apply to this situation. Britain did not forcibly expunge the Irish population even though conditions were horrid & led to mass emigration. This & expulsion are quite diff phenomena.
I don’t think it would be dangerous at all. If Jews have the right to return to Israel & accept citizenship then surely the offspring of those whose parents were expelled have a similar right. What’s good for the goose…
The expelled themselves are a small part of the overall refugee population.
No, but why would the descendants “deserve” citizenship in a certain area because their parents lived there at one point? You yourself have criticized commentators when they brought up the issue of return.
They did from parts of North Ireland. But for another example, what about the ethnic Germans living in western Poland/eastern Germany who were expelled when the Soviet Union and Soviet-dominated Poland decided to move the Polish and Soviet borders westward in the two decades after World War 2? Do their descendants deserve Polish citizenship? And do the descendants of Germans who were expelled from Konigsburg (now Kaliningrad) in the same period deserve Russian citizenship? In both of those cases (and I can provide others, if you like), the descendants were not given a chance to become citizens of those countries.
I agree that Israel’s citizenship laws are biased and unfair in favor of Jews, but I don’t think it is quite an equivalent situation. As it mentions, these are people who already have Israeli citizenship who would be receiving the right to vote in some elections back home while abroad – and it doesn’t specifically say that they must be Jewish citizens. If there are Israeli citizens of non-Jewish descent abroad, they would be able to vote in this scheme as well.
No, you’re mistaking me for someone else. I support the Right of Return along the lines of what’s outlined in the Geneva Accords.
Actual survivors and close family members WILL receive some form of financial or territorial restitution for their Nakba suffering in a final peace agreement. Their land was stolen from them and they are entitled to restitution for that.
Actually, you understate the issue. If Jews, even those who never lived in Israel and never had any relative who lived in Israel have the Law of Return & can become automatic citizens, then Israeli Palestinians who are the direct descendants of actual residents of Israel certainly have the same right. Either you’re in favor of entirely scrapping the Law of Return or you’re arguing that Arabs may be denied what Jews are permitted. This is but one part of the fatal flaw of the State of Israel in proclaiming itself a Jewish & democratic state.
Thank you for that clarification.
The question of ethnic Germans who were expelled from their homes is an interesting one but their situation was/is different from the Palestinian refugees. The ethnic Germans were expelled by the Soviet authorities and became refugees but they became refugees only in another part of Germany (mostly american, French, British zones, less so the Soviet zone). These days the UN does not define this as a refugee anymore but as an internally displaced person.
As they were ethnic Germans and moved to other parts of their state they would have had German citizenship prior to and after they were expelled. Also, the German government paid compensations to those who were expelled.
It is also important to note that most of the Germans who were expelled accepted this as their fate and saw this in context of the atrocities committed by Germany. An acceptance as a punishment if you will. With only very minor exceptions, the expelled and their offspring do not lay claim to their houses and land in what is now Poland or Russia. Some older folks have moved back to their home towns in Poland in the past years but they purchased new homes which they are free to do within the European Union
which Poland joined in 2004.
In other words, the German refugee problem was relatively easy to solve. Palestinians who were expelled and their off-spring though have no citizenship at all and have been sitting for example in Ain-el-Helwe and other camps in Lebanon which is not their country but to which they were forced to go at gun point even though most of them had never fought in any kind of war before and therefore feel they have a right to return to their lands.
If we are serious about democracy, we cannot really ignore this fact.
Thanks, Steffen. I didn’t know those facts & appreciate your knowledge of them.
Changes like this further befuddle the already weird Knesset system, whose members are all elected “at large” — in a national popularity contest. The top 120 vote-getters are seated. Israel was created supposedly in the image of a European-style parliamentary democracy. But in Europe, all or almost all national parliament members are elected from specific small districts.
In Israel, this leads to submersion of local issues and election of “national” politicians, who need a certain large amount of party support and personal funds to mount a campaign because the campaign cannot easily be waged in a defined small area with the help of local grass-roots volunteers.
It also guarantees fractionation and free-for-all coalition-building — the strongest parties rarely can amass more than a third of the Knesset votes. This gives extra power to splinter parties which, of course, have little restraint from local matters.
Allowing international voting — no matter what its moral imperatives might be — would accentuate the weirdness and increases the resources needed to credibly run. In other words, under current rules it further exaggerates the difference between Knesset members and the voters, and further reduces the effect of grass-roots campaigning. It makes Israel even less democratic.
It WOULD likely lead to ultra-orthodox in the US racing to Israel, obtaining citizenship, and voting for Likud or their own even more right-wing parties, safe in their Brooklyn neighborhoods.
BTW, I know of no international court that would have jurisdiction over international voting rules for a sovereign state. The ICC is aimed at “criminal” actions and the World Court has jurisdiction only in nation-to-nation disputes — trade, borders, etc.
BTW, allowing expats to vote also drives a wedge between Knesset members and votes in other ways. The Knesset, for instance requires that:
A candidates’ list shall not participate in elections to the Knesset if its objects or actions, expressly or by implication, include one of the following:
(1) negation of the existence of the State of Israel as the state of the Jewish people;
(2) negation of the democratic character of the State;
(3) incitement to racism.
One wonders about that last point given the orthodox parties’ platforms over the last decade.
Also, dual-nationals generally cannot run, although presumably they would be able to vote. The Knesset law says:
Where an Israeli national is a national also of another state, and the law of that state enables his release from its nationality, he shall not be a candidate for the Knesset unless, by the time of the submission of the candidates’ list including his name and to the satisfaction of the chairman of the Knesset Central Elections Committee, he has done everything required on his part to be released therefrom. For this purpose, a person shall not be regarded as a national of another state unless, at any time, he had a passport of that state or another document attesting to his being a national of that state.