Tuesday, October 14, 2008

Voting Rights- Should American Jews Be Given a Vote

Hi all, it is Jack and I have a thought or two to share with you. Last week during a slow moment in shul a few of us began a discussion about voting rights for American Expats and whether American Jews should be allowed to vote in Israeli elections.

It was a very heated discussion and not just because of the fast. Here is a short synopsis of what went on.

Some people felt that if expats became citizens of other countries they simply should not be allowed to vote.

Others took a more nuanced approach and said that if an expat became a citizen of another country, was not paying taxes and lived more than 3/4s of the year outside of the U.S. then they should give up their right to vote.

Still another group maintained that unless you give up your American citizenship you should always retain all rights granted therein.

It is an interesting discussion to me for a variety of reasons. I am Pro-Israel and will always be concerned about Israel's welfare, but at the moment I live in the U.S. So while I may make aliyah one day I have to look at the U.S. first and Israel second.

None of this negates my love for Israel and for all Jews. None of it means that I am not concerned about what happens to Jews. It just means that I think that the responsible thing to do, the moral thing to do and the Jewish thing to do is to vote according to where I live.

Now I should add that I do not trust any of the American political parties to look out for Israel's best interest. I think that it is a mistake. Countries are not friends, they are allies. It is a different relationship. Allies require common and mutual interests and when those no longer coincide the relationship ends.

Let's go back to the discussion regarding voting rights and cover the question of what role should American Jews be given in Israeli politics. Really we should say all Jews, but for this discussion we'll keep it simple.

If we accept the premise that one should not be given a vote unless one is a citizen than the point is moot. But as one of the participants said it is not that far a leap to suggest that Jews be given a vote in Israeli politics.

Around the world there are sad examples of Jews who have been maimed or murdered supposedly because of Israeli politics so one could say that we all share risk based upon the actions of the government. Why shouldn't we be given a say in what happens.

For myself I tend to lean towards saying that if you don't live there you than you shouldn't vote. Your interests and concerns are not the same as those who do live there.

What do you think?

Wherever I am, my blog turns towards Eretz Yisrael טובה הארץ מאד מאד


Risa said...

I have been in Israel 41 years and have voted in every Israeli election since I became eligible to vote. I am proud of being an Israeli citiizen and although I have not given up my American citizenship or passport, I do not vote in the US elections.
I made an important and consious choice to become an Israeli citizen and I believe that my loyalty is first and foremost to this country. There is nothing dual about it. If push came to shove, this is the identity I choose. If that means I need a visa to visit my family in the US, then I would do it.
Voting shouldn't be something you buy either with taxes or donations. It is about those who govern your country. I guess you have to decide which is 'your' country.
One more thing, your comment about countries not being friends, rather allies is soooo true. It's why you can't really say that either of the candidates will be 'good' for Israel. It depends what is in their interests.

Ben-Yehudah said...


First of all, who cares what other countries do?

Second, when the Left in Israel sees it's losing its hold on the country, it imports goyim from the Ukraine, and freezes immigration from Peru and India {mostly religious and right wing Jews} in an attempt to upset the balance.

Now that over half of all second graders are religious in Israel, what's next?

Letting Jews abroad vote.

The issue of "Who is a Jew" will resurface, and be further chipped away.

Then,...voila. The left regains its control,..."democratically."

More like deMOCKratically.

Baila said...

I've only been in Israel one year. Since I've spent the first 40 or so in the US, I am still very connected and will probably remain so for a long time. I also understand the political system there much better, and while I am learning about the way the system works here, I'm not sure I'll ever understand (but then again I don't Israelis understand it either).

In any case, I feel a responsibility (and a right) to vote in the upcoming American elections.

Good post and debate question.

Batya said...

Risa stole my comment. I was going to write the same thing, except that I made aliya a couple of years after her.

JoeSettler said...

It's being discussed on my blog here.

And here I have extensive statistics on American expats around the world who all have the right to vote (American Jews in Israel make up just 5% of total American expats).

In fact, despite the common misconception, Israel rates as only the 4th the largest country with the largest number of American expats, and significantly fewer expats that the 3 countries directly above it (Canada, Mexico, UK), and more in line with the 3 directly below it (Italy, German, Philippines).

I also plan to discuss whether Israelis abroad should have the right to vote in Israeli elections.

zahava said...

I am always somewhat surprised when I hear people insisting that the obligation to pay taxes doesn't "buy" the right to vote. Unless I am gravely mistaken about my early American history, I seem to remember a rather important evening affair in Boston Harbor in the mid 1700s -- something about colonial citizens resenting "taxation without representation"....

As a self-employed American citizen -- even though I live overseas -- I am subject to the same social security and federal tax regulations as citizens residing within the US. I strongly believe that if you pay taxes not only have you the "right" to vote, but the responsibility to do so. Perhaps my sentiments are the result of a healthy dose of patriotic New England education -- having received some of my primary education not far from the site of that long-ago tea party -- I am fiercely protective of my right to vote. A citizen's right to be represented in the government is among the most important 'isms' on which the constitution (and American society) is based.

Legally, under the tenets by which the federal government was formed, contributing citizens have a right to make their voices heard -- US residents or not. It simply isn't an issue of residence -- it is an issue of participation. To renounce the right to vote of tax-paying expat citizens is to spit on one of the cornerstones upon which the US government was formed.

You may contend that expats shouldn't have access to absentee ballots allowing them to cast their lot in the elections. But unless current voting laws are amended, I contend that it is ludicrous for you to suggest that I not exercise my legal right to vote because I don't live on US soil. I also contend that the whole concept of absentee ballots are inextricably linked to the notion of "taxation without representation."

At the heart of this discussion, the real issue lies in the definition of citizenship and the mutual responsibility of citizen and nation. Should expat citizens be required to suspend their initial citizenship when living as citizens of another nation? I don't know, and I am honestly not prepared to delve into so sticky a topic. But until such time as it becomes illegal to vote when living on foreign soil, I will continue to vote in federal elections.

zahava said...

Sorry to take up so much space in the comments. I realized after posting with regards to the US electoral process that I failed to address my thoughts on Israeli elections.

FWIW, I agree with Risa that donations are not enough of an impetus to "buy" the right to vote. I do, however, see a major difference between taxes (compulsory) and donations (voluntary). Each tax-paying citizen receives one vote -- equal in power to the vote of his fellow citizen, regardless of his tax exposure. The vote of the wealthiest citizen has no more or less impact than the vote of the poorest citizen.

I also see a difference between being a part of a global community and being a citizen (non-Israeli Jews as opposed to Israeli Jews who are citizens).

But again, I see it as an issue of participation. As a olah, I am not as familiar with the electoral procedures in Israel as I am with those in the US. However, it is my understanding (would appreciate substantiated correction if I am wrong) that while there are no absentee ballots for expat Israeli citizens, non-resident citizens may return to vote on election day if they so desire.

It is also my understanding, that expat Israelis are required to contribute to ביתוח לאומי (betuach leumi/national health insurance) during time they live overseas. Here, again, is the theme of participation.

To non-Israeli Jews I have the following answer to the insistence that the global Jewish community is affected by the decisions of the Israeli government and should therefore be able to vote in Israeli elections: מה קשר (mah kesher/what's the connection)?! All global citizens have been affected by one or another country's individual decisions. The right to vote, however, is tied to not only to national identity but to the individual's responsibility to the nation. A contributing citizen has a stake in the outcome -- a donor doesn't carry the same personal risk.

IMHO, citizenship is a two-way relationship -- individual citizens contribute to national society through a variety of means (military service; national service; taxation; etc.) and in return for these compulsory contributions, receive those rights the country in question grants her citizens (vote; health care; protection; etc.).

tafka pp said...

Very interesting. But it isn't just non-Israeli Jews who should be included in the discussion: Where would you draw the line? Israel is a Jewish state, yes, but not all it's citizens/affiliates/people born here or with roots here are Jewish... didn't that come up in your discussion?

Ben-Yehudah said...

Tafka PP,

You've got to be kidding.

No, wait, you're not. I just saw your blog.

Trust me, you not going "slighty" mad.

State, shmate. The Land of Israel is promised to Jews, and only Jews.

End of discussion.

tafka pp said...


Moadim LeSimcha to you too.

I've been reading and commenting on the Muqata since the first post in 2005: I think Jameel (or Jack, in this case, as he wrote the post) reserves the right to tell me whether I am allowed to raise points in the discussion.

Ben-Yehudah said...

I don't believe I was questioning your "right" to do anything.

If you have the "right" to express yourself, then so do I.

Oh, whoops, I forgot.

Right wing Torah fanatics don't have any rights in Medinat Yisrael.

My apologies. < eyes rolling >

tafka pp said...

Ben Yehudah, sorry to labour a point, but...

If you did actually check out my blog- I defy you to find anything slamming "Right Wing Torah Fanatics". You don't know me or who I hang around with (plenty of RWTFs, actually- who will tell you that I'm actually very nice and tolerant of pretty much everyone on all sides of all spectrums until they begin discriminating needlessly, lying, murdering etc. The usual.)

I also never said you weren't free to express whatever you want to: I was simply objecting to being curtailed in a public forum by someone who wasn't the blog owner.

Enough with the eye-rolling? ok? Cheers.

tafka pp said...

Also- re "State, Shmate" - Jack's discussion, if I understood correctly, was examining diaspora Jew's right to vote in Israeli elections. That, categorically, is more of an issue vis a vis Statehood than of biblical promises, and as such, renders my original question about who would constitute an elegible voter even more valid, IMHO.

Whew. Haven't gotten this frantic in the comments box in a while- quite tiring!

Ben-Yehudah said...

Never said you slammed anyone.

I DO discriminate,...absolutely,...just as the Torah does,...often.

The difference between me and other so called RWRF {thanks for the helpful abbrev., btw}, is that I don't try to pretend otherwise.

How did I try to "curtail" you?

Personally, I'm surprised you didn't use the terms "marginalize me" and "silence my voice."

But perhaps those phrases are too "90's."

Facial Expression Freedom Alliance

Ben-Yehudah said...

Thank you for the clarification, but my point still stands.

Non Jews have no right to decide the fate of anything in the Land of Israel.

When the State violates halacha, it is wrong,...which means, it is wrong often.

Jack said...


It is a sticky subject to address and one that will make people unhappy. I am always reluctant to discuss any sort of voting restrictions for citizens.

But there is a legitimate discussion about the role of expats in the vote. In a number of recent conversations I have heard many people talk about the best candidate for Israel.

I find that line of reasoning to be flawed and troubling. As I said I am Pro-Israel and I always am interested in doing things to support Israel.

But the best candidate for Israel may not be the best candidate for the U.S. as a whole.

Since I do not trust any of the US political parties to truly look out for Israel it makes it easier for me to make decisions.

Although I should add that congress is always going to play a large role in what happens, so a Dem/Repub POTUS is not the only influence here.

But going to back to the topic, the question that is being asked is whether expats interests are at odds with those who still reside within the U.S.

It is an uncomfortable topic.

Jack said...

Facial Expression Freedom Alliance

You were the guy I used to see hanging out on Gayley.Westwood is just not the same anymore. ;)

Ben-Yehudah said...

nope, that wasn't me.

BTW, I should explain that "Gayley" is the name of a street in the Westwood neighborhood of Los Angeles, bordering the UCLA campus. I don't want anyone to get the wrong idea.

Don't forget. Everyone, please vote in my online poll. Only three days left.

How should the pritzus problem during Simhath Beth HaShoevah be stopped?

Leftists welcome but not encouraged.

P. S. Jack, that was a clever diversion.... ;-}

zahava said...

Jack: With all due respect, even if some expat voters vote from a single issue perspective (and I contend that most do not) which stems from their choice of residence, how is this different from a resident citizen participating in the electoral process from any other single-issue agenda (read: school-prayer; abortion; gay rights; ecology; etc.)?!

Under the current legal standard all US citizens who haven't otherwise forfeited their rights retain the right to exercise their say in the selection of government leaders via the vote. Are you suggesting that it is time to reevaluate the standard? If so, how do you propose to address the issue of representational taxation for expat citizens who continue to file and pay their US taxes?

Commenter Abbi said...

ben yehudah- when you use the phrase "end of discussion" that's called, um, ending the discussion (or, in other words, curtailing the discussion).

English is your friend. Get to know it.

Jack said...


I am not suggesting that we review the current standards for voting eligibility. Sometimes there isn't a need to tweak the system.

But it is worth discussing. I do wonder about some expats and their voting.

I make no bones about my position on the ignorance of many voters. I wish that more people were better informed about the issues.

This is not to say that they would necessarily vote the way that I want them to, but I'd feel better about it.

As for expats there are legitimate questions about whether they are up to speed on the major issues that affect those of us who still live here.

I am not saying that your right to vote should be removed, just that I question what some expats do with it.

Jack said...

One more thing, your comment about countries not being friends, rather allies is soooo true. It's why you can't really say that either of the candidates will be 'good' for Israel. It depends what is in their interests.


I meant to comment on this earlier. Too many people misunderstand the difference.

American Jewish Woman said...


Halacha according to who? ... so many interpretations, customs, etc., ... black hat vs furry hat vs knitted kippah vs black suede kippah, sefardim vs ashkenzim, burkha wearing women vs shaven bald women vs wig wearing vs headcovering vs no headcover ... truly Halacha according to WHO?

Ben-Yehudah said...

AJW, It is our role as a people to work to make Torah the reality in this world.

Let us first begin with the basics:

1. Halacha does not equal customs. You know that, but a lot of Jews unfortunately confuse the two,...often.

2. The is no dispute about keeping Shabbath and not eating pork, rabbit, camel, etc. These things have no business being granted as "rights" in the Almighty State of Israel.

3. Yeah, there are a lot of details to work out, but not exempt from putting our efforts into moving toward that goal.

4. According to whom? When we have a Sanhedrin which is accepted in Israel, that will be the final {or beginning} point in unifying and delineating the various opinions represented in your comment.

tafka pp said...


What Abbi said.

When you can answer my comments without being insulting and juvenile, I'll try to respond to yours. (Although I guess if you don't want people who don't think like you voting on your poll, that's a pretty good indication to me that I shouldn't even bother.)

Chag Sameach y'all!

JoeSettler said...

You may not be able to say which candidate will be good for Israel, but we already know which candidate will be unquestionably bad for Israel.

Obama has made it clear that he doesn't view the State of Israel or the Jewish people as having any (historical, religious, or security) rights to large parts our national homeland and Jerusalem, and that the Arab enemy is justified in continuing to attack us, and their primary question is if it is productive for them to do so (will they succeed in throwing us out from our national homeland through violence).

That is an objectively bad starting point for the President of the United States.

I wrote about it here and here.

Gila said...

>>that expat Israelis are required to contribute to ביתוח לאומי (betuach leumi/national health insurance) during time they live overseas<<

I do not believe that this is entirely correct. My understanding is that they don't have to...but if they move back they either have to make up some amount for the missed time or go through a waiting period. I believe that this was a response to people abusing the system. Bear in mind that Bituach Leumi is equivalent to Social Security (pension/insurance) and not income taxes. Here, the issue is that if you don't pay in, you cannot take out.

Regarding voting--I am with Risa. I am not voting in the US elections because I do not live there and feel that those living in the US have the right to determine what sort of government they want--even if it is not to my own personal advantage.

As for allowing Jews overseas to vote, I am casting my support with the "contributions does not buy the right to vote" argument. If you do not live here and you are not going to have to really pay the price for your decisions, stay out of our elections!

Regarding Israeli ex-pats...the tax argument is not applicable here. Unlike ex-pat Americans who are required to continue paying taxes, Israelis living abroad are not required to pay taxes on their non-Israeli-source income. (Israelis and non-Israelis are subject to tax at varying rates and on their Israeli-source income).

I think it also bears consideration that the relative numbers are very different. The ratio of US ex-pats to US residents is undoubtedly much lower than the Israeli ex-pats to Israeli residents. Sending the vote abroad is pretty much akin to giving up control. Sorry, but why should an armchair Zionist be able to send Israeli boys off to their deaths or make decisions that will make it easier for terrorists to attack civilians while he and his family sit safely on thier asses in the States or Canada or where ever? With rights come responsibilities. If you are not willing to take on the responsibilities with all of their associated costs...you do not get the rights.

I suspect that many of those who bring up this idea have this idea that it will help strengthen the rifht. I think it also bears noting that while the hard-core, "carpet-bomb" Aza brigade is noisiest, there is undoubtedly a large pool of Jews around the world who will rush to vote for more left candidates. Remember, the majority of Jews are not Orthodox. I suspect that many of them, even those who are not far left, would be quite happy to vote for a complete withdrawal from the shtachim. And then what?

In other words: keep the decision making local.

Gila said...

A typo. I meant: Israelis and non-Israelis are subject to tax at varying rates on their Israeli-source income.

The varying rates applicable to non-Israelis are as based on applicable tax treaties.

JoeSettler said...

Around 1% of Americans live outside of America.

I suspect something like 10% of Israelis live outside of Israel (but have no hard data on that number).

Jameel @ The Muqata said...

OK, just joining this thread for the first time (had a busy chag :)

While I've been here for 18 years, I don't think Ive ever exercised my right to vote in a US election.

Personally, my vote would be irrelevant, since I'm not from a swing state -- and since absentee ballots are only used if there's an exact tie (and I'm not from a Florida-type state), then my vote would never be used.

That said, I don't believe that dual citizenship means lack of loyalty to Israel. Israel is my primary (and only) residence -- but as an American citizen, I file with the IRS every year. Some years after living here, I even paid quite a bit of taxes to the US (much more than to Israel) because my income was coming from the US.

As long as I'm actively a US citizen (and filing taxes every year is a perfect example) then I don't have a problem with voting...if I actually wanted to.

Will address Ben-Yehuda's comments later :)

westbankmama said...

Jack, I am not exercising my right to vote because I am concerned about Obama's views on Israel - I am concerned about his views on every issue concerning the US. I still have good friends living in America, and I am worried about them.

In addition, most expats have lived in both countries for enough time to have a handle on the issues. I personally keep up with the news /blogs in America and know what is happening there, and feel that I can make an informed decision.

Jack said...

In addition, most expats have lived in both countries for enough time to have a handle on the issues.

I have serious doubts about that, but I don't know how to accurately measure this.

I'll readily admit that I don't think that most people are very well informed at all on the issues. That is not directed at you, just a comment in general.

Many people call Obama a socialist. They use the term as a slur, but very few of them really understands what it means to be a socialist.

It is part of crowd think.

Commenter Abbi said...

"They use the term as a slur, but very few of them really understands what it means to be a socialist."

I'm sure the CEOs of AIG, Fannie Mae and Fredde Mac would be happy to explain what it means to be a socialist!

Ben-Yehudah said...

I await your input with baited breath.

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