Diaspora Jews: A Call to Action, a Call to Vote

It seems like not a day goes by without giving liberal Zionism a reason to despair. Yesterday was particularly grim: the passing of the Jewish State Law, increasing the marginalization of Israel’s minorities; the Hungarian prime minister receiving a king’s welcome in Jerusalem, notwithstanding his being the symbol of anti-democratic and Fascist trends in Europe; the defeat of a vote to legalize gay surrogate parenthood; and – almost under the radar – the arrest of conservative Rabbi Dov Haiyun for performing non-Orthodox weddings.

Personally, this last incident is particularly upsetting. While the first three mentioned were disturbing, they were also unsurprising; the arrest of Rabbi Haiyun marks a dark turn. From a legal perspective, Haiyun is clearly innocent: non-Orthodox wedding services are common and legal in Israel, while being unrecognized by the state for registry purposes. I personally had a wedding ceremony with a reform Rabbi in Israel, and then got legally married in Greece. But Rabbi Haiyun’s arrest shows the strength of the Ultra-Orthodox, and their willingness to use this strength not only for political purposes, but for personal vendettas against liberal rabbis.

Liberal Zionism is in peril. The Israeli political system is increasingly choosing ultra-nationalism and religion over democracy, and democracy itself is increasingly demonized as anti-Israeli. At the same time, the Right is only strengthening in the polls.

I call on diaspora Jews: Help us say – No!

The Jewish State Law passed yesterday defines Israel as the state of the Jewish people. This means it is also yours! The Zionist project can only collapse if the ultra-right moves are met with apathy by liberal Israelis and diaspora Jews. If diaspora Jews give up on  Israel – this is the beginning of the end of Zionism; the destruction of the third house.

We must use every legal tool we have to prevent the opportunistic, power-hungry politicians in power in Israel from making this happen. One tool, which is usually overlooked, is the right to vote – a right enjoyed by anyone in the world with one Jewish grandparent. If only 5% of diaspora Jews and half-Jews were to register as citizens, and fly in to Israel in the next general elections – dayenu.

Many will say that as Diaspora Jews, they do not have the right to affect the internal issues of Israel, and have not earned the right to influence Israeli politics through residence or service. I answer that the Knesset and the ultra-right government are destroying not just Israeli democracy, but the Jewish nation itself, by striking a schism between Israel and a majority of diaspora Jews. This affects every Jew, and thus every Jew should exercise his legal right to vote against it.

Throughout the world, diasporas play an important political role. Take Turkey for example: Erdogan invests significantly in the Turkish populations in Europe during his campaigns, as these can vote and are an important support base for him.

For liberal Zionists this will be somewhat harder: you would have to fly into Israel to register as a citizen, and then again to vote. But is this cost too high, when the alternative is the end of Judaism? If you are a diaspora Jew who cares about Israel, have you not visited? Why not time your next visit with the elections?

My brothers and sisters in the Diaspora, I call upon you to ponder this in Tish’a Be’av this weekend: what will be the reason for the collapse of the third house? I say, it will be apathy. Please don’t give up on us, the liberal minority in Israel, trying desperately to save the  Zionist project. We need your help, and we need your votes.

About the Author
Ariel Paz-Sawicki is head of research in Lobby 99, a crowd-funded lobby dedicated to promoting the public interest focusing on economic issues. American-Israeli, 10 years in the IDF, and a recent graduate from Johns Hopkins School of Advanced International Studies (SAIS).
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