The demographic war / will voting rights for world Jews be the next move?

Posted: February 10th, 2010 | Author: | Filed under: elections, In the News, The Right | Tags: , , , , , , , , | Comments Off

The government is reviving the old idea of absentee votes, but Netanyahu and Liberman might lose the Knesset battle over this one

There isn’t anything I hate in Israeli politics more than the talks on the so-called “demographic battle”. More than ever, I see this concept as the source of all evil here: from the discrimination of Arab citizens to the shameful Knesset bill which will make it illegal to give aid or shelter to the refugees who crosses the southern border.

Viewing Jewish hegemony as a necessity is something that all Zionist parties have in common: it’s the pretext for Liberman’s plan for ethnic separation, as well as for Meretz’s and Labor’s believe in the two states solution as the only way to promise a permanent Jewish majority within the Green line. In both cases, none-Jews are seen as a national threat. And while there is no doubt that Meretz and Labor are much more committed to democratic values than Liberman, all of them share the demographic obsession.

It is in this context that we should see the government plan, announced Sunday, to grant voting rights to 750,000 Israeli expatriates. This idea was raised several times in the past by rightwing politicians, who saw it as the easy way to ensure a permanent “national majority” (the common belief is that most expatriates support the right), but it has always failed to pass the Knesset votes. The left was able to block all legislative attempts, usually with the help of some rightwing MKs who believed that the right to vote should be given only to those people who face the consequences of their political choices. The fact that the idea was never popular with the general public, who still views the Yordim is deserters to the national cause, left Israel as one of the few democracies which don’t allow absentee voting.

Maybe not anymore. Avigdor Liberman’s Israel Beitenu has put forward a bill that if accepted, will grant voting rights to all Israelis who left the country in the decade prior to the elections. With Netanyahu’s support, the coalition stands a better than ever chance of completing the legislation effort in a short time.

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But why now? The right enjoys an overwhelming majority in the Knesset, and risking it would be a foolish move. After all, the estimates on the way the absentee vote might break are no more than not-so-educated guesses, and polling of expatriates is almost impossible. What seems like a good idea now might easily turn out to be a disaster. If the right was in the opposition and desperate for new voters, this would have been an understandable move, but this is clearly not the case now.

The answer, as in so many cases, is demography. Discriminated as they are, the Arab citizens are still viewed as a threat by the public. The new generation of Arab leaders is more vocal in demanding its rights and in challenging the state’s ideological foundations. What’s more important is that right now, the Arabs reach only half of their voting potential. A Knesset with 22-24 non-Zionist MK’s (instead of the 11 we have now) would be much harder for Israeli nationalists to swallow. Half a million more Jewish votes could be a nice counter measure.

As I said, most democracies allow absentee voting. But the Israeli case is special. If accepted, the bill will make turn the Israeli voting system really into one of a kind: out of several million Arabs who live between the sea and the Jordan river, more than a million will have voting rights, some will be considered citizens but without voting rights – this is the case of the Arabs living in East Jerusalem – and most of them won’t have any right at all. At they same time, their life will be run by a coalition of Jewish Israelis and Israeli-Americans who haven’t set foot in this country for years.

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Half a million additional Jewish votes, however, won’t be sufficient if Israel stays in the West Bank and has to face pressure to finally grant the Palestinians their civil rights. This is what most Israelis view as the post-Zionist nightmare, in which Jews will have a slim majority at best – certainly not enough to maintain the current balance of power. And this is where the brilliant part in the new bill comes.

As Dimi Reider pointed out, Israel could just the same give voting rights to all Jews, not just Israelis. Right now every Jew that lands in Tel Aviv can become a citizen in minutes, so why not save them the trip and hand all the Jews ID’s at the Israeli consulates in their own towns? Then, according to the new legislation, they will be able to cast their absentee votes and create a virtual Jewish majority in Israel forever. Voila, problem solved. We get to keep the West bank and remain a democracy, just like Allen Dershowitz says. Sounds impossible? Nothing is impossible in the current political mood in Israel.

If the idea to grant expatriates voting rights does fails, it won’t happen because of Israel’s commitment to democratic values, but due to good and old Knesset politics. I simply doubt if the right can come up with a majority that will let the bill pass. Labor opposes it, as will most of Kadima and the left. That already leaves Netanyahu and Liberman with a very narrow majority, and a handful of independent-minded Likud MK’s are all that needed to kill the bill.

But the real ace in the pack is Shas. The Ulthra-Orthodox Sepharadic party will surly lose from absentee voting. Its public doesn’t travel that much, and there is no substantial Sepharadic-Orthodox community outside Israel. An even greater risk for Shas is an organized vote from Ashkenazi-Orthodox community, which might return Shas to its previously secondary position in the religious world. I bet that this is a risk they would never take. Maybe that’s the reason Interior Minister Eli Yishay, who is usually very vocal on demographic issues, opposes the new bill.

It seems that for the time being, all our expatriates will have to settle for voicing their views on the news sites’ comments, and the Netanyahu-Liberman government will have to find a new weapon for its demographic war. Rest assure, they would come up with something.


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