Netanyahu invites the refugees to vote

This is huge. Prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu announced today that as part of a coalition agreement with Yisrael Beiteinu, his government would promote a bill allowing Israeli citizens abroad to vote in the general elections.

From a rightist perspective, this makes a lot of sense: Israel would be able to utilise it’s 750,000 expatriates, and throw them into the so-called “demographic war” against the country’s growing national minority of Palestinians.

But what’s more, and this is probably why the proposal had to come from a radical party like Yisrael Beiteinu, I would surmise the real target here is not the Israeli expatriates, but the entire Jewish Diaspora. The Law of Return makes it possible for any Jew to become a citizen; I wouldn’t be surprised if within a few years, the law will be quietly amended to allow Jews to apply for citizenship right at their nearest Israeli embassy, blowing the number of Jewish “Israeli” voters vs the Palestinian Israeli ones to enormous proportions, with little inconvenience to either themselves or the state. Considering Jewish communities abroad are often more hawkish than their Israeli co-religionists, this would also be a boon to rightists parties – especially to the party that made it possible for them to vote in the first place.

However, it seems  both Lieberman and Netanyahu prefer to disregard, at least for the moment,  the Sheik Jarrah factor. The battle over this East Jerusalem neighbourhood erupted with a court ruling acknowledging some of the houses belong to a Jewish group which left them in the wake of the war of 1948. While the immediate result of the decision was the expulsion of Palestinian families from the houses in question, awareness is already growing that this represents an indirect, de jure recognition of the Right of Return (this is also why I see the Sheik Jarrah protests as the rearguard battle of the two-state solution, but that’s a subject for a separate post). There’s little doubt that sooner or later we will see similar  lawsuits filed by Palestinian refugees, who lost their homes in West Jerusalem in the very same war – and this time, they will have a very strong legal precedent to lean on.

The situation with absentee voting is quite similar. While in the short run it will boost the Jewish vote vis-a-vis the Arab one, in effect, this is a clarion call for the refugees, the Palestinian Diaspora – which numbers many more than 750,000, and comes close enough  to the Jewish one  - to begin reasserting their right of representation in a conflict that affects them to this day.

Yitzhak Rabin buried the refugee issue in the golden casket of the Oslo Accords, by appropriating the refugee leadership – the PLO – and transplanting it to the West Bank and Gaza, where it proceeded to sell the refugees down the river. It seems only appropriate that Benjamin Netanyahu now revives the need for refugee representation, and even provides them with the impetus to demand it in a political, not violent way – a way Israel will find incredibly hard to deal with.

If the bill passes, all that remains to do be seen is how long  will it take for a Palestinian party  to file the papers at Israel’s Supreme Court, to demand representation and absentee voting rights as well.

8 Comments

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8 responses to “Netanyahu invites the refugees to vote

  1. Didn’t quite know how to leave a personal message for you so excuse the comment. I salute your work & journalism. You may know my Tikun Olam blog. Pls. keep in touch as I value highly first hand sources from Israel & Palestine as I monitor the conflict. If we can do anything to bring Hebrew language journalism to the English speaking audience & vice versa it’s a very good thing.

    I’ll also add a link in my blogroll to your blog.

  2. Pingback: Netanyahu Proposes Israeli Expatriates Vote | Tikun Olam-תקון עולם: Make the World a Better Place

  3. sharifin

    This is huge. But I disagree that this is a precursor to amend the Law of Return. If you could acquire citizenship under the Law of Return by simply applying for it at an embassy without ever returning, then aliyah is over. That would be like citizenship by conversion, an age-old concept, only that in this case the convert is already eligible under the right of return, and the rabbinic court is the embassy. If the Law of Return is amended in the ways you suggest, there is none – for better and for worse.
    I am very interested to see how that all plays out, because I always thought domestic politics would want to keep diaspora representation informal and philanthropic as much as possible. Absentee voting is quite common for most countries, but I agree it gains complexity in this situation. So why are they doing this? For more hawkish voters? For more short-sighted quick-fix ‘solutions’ that always backfire? And why am I up already?

  4. Pingback: Netanyahu invites the refugees to vote - Blog Post

  5. Dimi

    @Richard – thanks so much for your very kind comment. Of course I know & follow Tikun Olam, and I’d love to keep in touch (in fact, we’re Facebook friends). Thanks also for adding me to your blogroll.

    @Sharifin – I agree it will have a lot of impact on Aliya etc, and indeed it could be motivated by the realisation that for all intents and purposes, the serious stream of Jews into Israel is already over – short of a major political / economical disaster in one of the Western countries, there’s really little chance that the 1m Russian-Jewish influx of the 1990′s will repeat itself.

    We’ll have to see how it plays out – right now the moderate “Left” is getting all worked and trying to play the nationalist-Zionist card – “how can you let Yordim vote etc” – to block the move. Which, I should note, is also fairly short-sighted, since I presume some of those “liberals” have powerful supporters abroad they risk alienating by calling then such unpleasant names.

  6. Pingback: Promised Land » Blog Archive » The demographic war / will voting rights for world Jews be the next move?

  7. lamerkhav

    you know, yiddish folk says: a puste zakhn, the ‘empty thing’ .
    proven, that in the hands of Mr. Lieberman everything becomes nothing :)

  8. Pingback: Netanyahu invites the refugees to vote - Blog Post

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