Scare Campaign Over Absentee Ballots

In fact, the law would only allow soldiers, tourists, El Al crews, students, professors and other bona fide Israelis to vote while overseas on election day.


By Moshe Arens

(A version of this column appeared in Haaretz on April 10, 2012.)

“This shall not pass” is the headline of a giant advertisement published in Haaretz on the eve of Passover, and signed by a long list of illustrious Israelis – academics, generals, former politicians, artists and authors. Their call of defiance is reminiscent of the famous slogan “No pasaran!” – “They shall not pass!” of Communist firebrand Dolores Ibarruri, “La Pasionaria,” while under attack by Franco’s forces during the battle for Madrid in the Spanish Civil War.

What is it that aroused this group of luminaries to such a frenzy of protest? The renewed attempt to introduce a law in the Knesset that will permit Israelis who happen to be abroad on election day to cast an “absentee ballot,” an option that citizens who are abroad on the day of elections have in most democracies nowadays. “This law, if passed,” the signatories claim, “will crush Israeli democracy and prevent forever a change of government.”

It seems advertisement’s undersigned are suffering from nightmares. They have a collective bad dream that after the law is passed, 500,000 ex-Israelis who have left this country permanently and have been living abroad for many years will renew their Israeli passports and, on election day, line up at the local consulates or embassies at the four corners of the earth and cast their votes for the Knesset elections.

In this nightmare, the ex-Israelis are going to vote for parties of the right because, as is presumably well known, those who have left Israel and are now living in luxury abroad without sharing the dangers of existence in the Middle East with the population living in Israel are all confirmed hardliners. The signatories of the ad wake from this nightmare with the realization that from now on there will be no need for elections anymore, because with Israelis who are living abroad participating in the elections, right-wing parties will be assured a permanent majority.

Are they truly convinced that their nightmare is likely to turn into reality, or are they deliberately using scare tactics to make sure that the “absentee ballot” law does not pass? They surely know that it is the purpose of the projected law to allow only bona fide Israelis who happen to be abroad on election day to participate in the Knesset elections, thus enabling them to exercise their basic right as citizens of Israel.

These citizens include soldiers on their post-army tour abroad; Israeli tourists making their annual or biannual trip abroad; El Al crews who happen to have landed abroad on election day; students, post-doctoral fellows and professors on sabbaticals at universities abroad; employees of Israeli companies with offices abroad – in other words, the many Israelis who serve in the IDF and pay their taxes in Israel whose bond with the country, its people and its fate is as strong as that of all those who are in Israel on election day, and no weaker, for that matter, than that of those who are the signatories to the “This shall not pass” advertisement.

Is it possible that these protesters are not aware that at any given moment, well over 100,000 genuine Israelis are out of the country, and that they are denied the basic right of citizenship by this country’s anachronistic election law? Or do they believe that it is not possible to devise a law that will differentiate between Israelis who are overseas temporarily and those who have emigrated? The many academics who signed their names to the advertisement must no doubt understand that this is far from being a mission impossible, that it is actually a very simple task the promoters of the law have set for themselves – devising regulations that will limit the right to vote abroad to those Israelis who continue to fulfill the obligations of Israeli citizenship.

The only explanation for this nightmare scenario being depicted by the advertisement’s endorsers is that they figure the majority of soldiers, tourists, businessmen and visiting professors who are abroad on election day would lean politically to the right.

Such a notion is hardly scientific, and quite possibly incorrect. What’s more, to argue that Israelis should be denied their basic rights as citizens on such flimsy grounds is preposterous. The use of such scare tactics to influence the public is not likely to work. This shall not pass.

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