Isreal does not allow for absentee ballots for most citizens. Scott Benowitz explains why that should not be the case.

“Israel was born under the British mandate. We learned from the British what democracy means, and how it behaves in a time of danger, war and terror. We thank Britain for introducing freedom and respect of human rights both in normal and demanding circumstances.”  –Shimon Peres

Not all countries in the world allow citizens to elect their leaders.  As we approach the end of the second decade of the twenty- first century, we do still have a handful of dictatorships throughout the world today.

Of the countries which do allow citizens to directly elect their politicians, the only country that I know of which does not allow for absentee ballots for most citizens is Israel.

In Israel, people have to be present within the country on the days in which elections are held in order to vote. Voting is only possible at the designated polling places.  Israel’s electoral system presently only allows for absentee voting for people who are serving in the Israeli military, for people who are directly employed by the Israeli government, for people who are patients in hospitals within Israel, and for people who are serving sentences in prisons.There is presently no available option for Israeli citizens to vote via postal ballots while they’re traveling in other countries.  

One aspect of life that Israel has in common with most other countries in the world in the 21stcentury is that there are quite a few citizens here who routinely travel to other countries throughout the world for quite a few reasons.  People travel throughout the world to visit family members, to visit friends and to vacation as tourists. People travel to consult medical experts if they need surgical procedures and they’d rather work with doctors in other countries. People travel to countries throughout the world to attend college or universities.  Quite a few people also travel frequently for business purposes. And none of them can vote in the elections while they’re traveling.  This is true for both the national elections as well as the local municipal elections.

“The Middle East is ailing. The malady stems from pervasive violence, shortages of food, water and educational opportunities, discrimination against women and the most virulent cause of all – the absence of freedom”-Shimon Peres

It’s not entirely clear why Israel does not allow absentee voting for most of the Israeli citizens who are traveling abroad. This may be nothing more than a mere oversight dating back to the Harari Decision of June 1950.  

This was not a prominent issue in Israel during the first 4 decades of the country’s existence.  The Knesset first began proposing extending absentee voting to all Israeli citizens who are traveling in other countries on the days of the elections during the 1980’s.  Various bills have proposed allowing for extending absentee voting to all eligible citizens several times since the 1980’s, and the Knesset has yet to approve it.  

Israels’ current prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu does favor extending absentee voting to Israeli citizens who are traveling to other countries while elections are occurring. In both 2015 as well as in 2016 there were proposals discussed in the Knesset which would have extended absentee voting rights to all Israeli citizens who are traveling in other countries on the days of elections, and neither the 2015 proposal as well as the 2016 proposal were approved by the Knesset. 

As I researched this article, I could not find any credible essays or articles which suggest that any particular political party has anything to gain (or to lose) by not approving the option for voting via absentee ballots for all citizens here who are eligible to vote in elections and are traveling in other countries on the days of the elections.  

At any given time, there are many tens of thousands, if not hundreds of thousands of Israeli citizens who are of legal voting age (18+) who are traveling in other countries.  People who are traveling to other countries at any given time are of all ages, genders and sexual orientation.  The people who are traveling are as varied as the world we live in; people who are traveling do not disproportionately represent any specific sets of values or ideologies, and the tens of thousands of people who are traveling to other countries at any given time do not disproportionately support any particular political parties or candidates. 

We’re now in the final year of the second decade of the twenty first century.  Airfares, bus fares and train fares throughout the world continue to become more affordable every year, and so people are likely to be traveling throughout the world in the 2020’s, the 2030’s and beyond.  If the Knesset is interested in ensuring that Israel’s government represents the interests of all of the citizens of Israel for the duration of the 21stcentury, and continuing into the 22ndand the 23rdcenturies, then they’ll need to extend equal voting rights to all Israeli citizens- including those who are traveling to other countries to visit family members, people who are traveling for business purposes, people who are vacationing abroad, people who are studying in college and graduate degree programs in other countries as well as people who travel to other countries for medical reasons during election days.

This could be easily accomplished- the elections committees here already print absentee ballot request forms, absentee ballots, envelopes as well as mailing labels for people who are serving in the Israeli military, for government employees, for people who are patients in hospitals within Israel as well as for prisoners. It would not be terribly difficult to extend absentee voting to all other citizens who are in other countries throughout the world on election days.

Scott Benowitz

Scott Benowitz is a staff writer for Afterimage Review. He holds an MSc in Comparative Politics from The London School of Economics & Political Science and a B.A. in International Studies from Reed...