The right to NOT vote

The US presidential elections are less than three months away, and once again the race is on to woo the various “voting blocs” seen as influential. And of course, as always, rightly or wrongly the Jewish vote is considered significant. Never mind the fact that Jews make up only about 2% of the population in America, our vote is nevertheless a force, and one which the Republican Party hopes to make inroads this year in particular.

Traditionally, the “Jewish vote” has been predominantly Democrat, although George Bush, Sr. garnered a none-too-shabby 35% of “our” vote when he was elected in 1988, and his son saw a rise in Jewish support from 19% when he was first elected in 2000 to 24% when he was re-elected in 2004. When President Obama was elected in 2008, he had 78% of the Jewish vote, but his popularity among American Members Of The Tribe (MOTTs) has dropped to 68%, according to a recently released Gallup poll.

The president’s popularity has also suffered in Israel, where he is widely perceived as being very “pro-Arab” and “anti-Israel.” According to a survey released in June, 29% of Israelis surveyed said that Republican candidate Mitt Romney would better promote Israel’s interests as opposed to 22% for Obama, while 49% said that they didn’t know.

So, the Republicans are working to ensure that Obama’s lower popularity in Israel makes a difference in the November elections. In mid-July, two leading officials of the Republican Jewish Coalition visited Israel to rally American ex-pats to vote for Romney, and last week, Romney himself paid us a visit. While here, Romney said all of the right things that presidential hopefuls say every four years, generating a lot of much excitement among many of my fellow US citizens in Israel.

The purpose of these visits is clear. According to an article in Haaretz, there are approximately 150,000 eligible American voters currently living in Israel. If we all exercise our right as American citizens and make our voices heard in November, we can play a role in electing a president much more sympathetic to our needs than the current president is seen as being. We could help America have a president who shares our concerns, hopes and dreams.

This is not new. Every four years there is a push in Israel to register American ex-pats to vote – one way or the other – and always for the candidate seen as being the best for Israeli issues. The assumption (probably accurate) is that for those living here, votes are based solely on these very issues.

And this is precisely why we Americans living in Israel should not vote in the US elections. It is not a question of our legal right to do so (which is undeniable), but rather our ethical right.

We have very real concerns about how the America’s leaders relate to Israel’s needs, rights and interests. Yet we must also bear in mind that the President of the United States is responsible for so many issues having absolutely nothing to do with Israel. I would even venture to say that Israel is not the among the most pressing issues for most Americans – including the president. Yet for those of us living here, it is not only the most pressing issue, it is essentially the only one.

Don’t get me wrong – of course I believe that Israeli and American interests very much parallel one another. And I would like to know that whoever is occupying the White House and serving as the leader of the Free World has my Israeli back and is doing whatever he (or someday, she) can and needs to do to support Israel.

But I also recognize that I am disconnected from non-Israel related issues. It is possible that in helping the person best suited for Israel’s needs rise to power, I might be placing the one least suited to America’s needs. And let’s not fool ourselves – the mandate given to the President of the United States, is first and foremost to look out for America’s needs, not Israel’s. No matter how much they should be intertwined.

I cannot, in good conscience, help elect a man that might (or might not) stand up for Israel, while driving the US economy into the ground, or setting social issues backwards by 20 years.

I am in no way suggesting that either of this year’s candidates would do that, I am talking about a matter of principle. Any US president could, in theory, prove to be bad for American interests. I will not be a part of inflicting that upon America when I am no longer there to suffer the consequences for my vote.

Granted, were I still living in America, I would probably also vote for whomever I thought was best for Israel. But then, if my choice proved to be poor, I would be there to pay the price for my mistake.

Some have told me that as an American citizen, with family still living there, I should vote because I do have a vested interest in American affairs, vicariously through friends and family. But this argument only works if we also allow for the converse to happen – that family and friends of Israelis should be part of the political process here, because their decisions touch their loved ones, just as mine affect my family.

But I certainly don’t want non-Israeli’s voting in our elections. I don’t even like when Israelis who have chosen to live abroad come back for one day in order to vote in the elections here. I’m not talking about shlichim (emissaries) or those sent for a limited period by their employers. I mean people who have decided that they prefer to live outside of Israel. By choosing not to live here on a daily basis, in a sense they have forfeited their moral (not legal) right to choose this country’s leadership. Just as I have forfeited that same right in America by making my life here.

In general, I think that when people see issues as the driving elements in their lives, they naturally assume that those same issues are equally prevalent in the eyes of others.  Thus, many Americans, both here and abroad, see US support for Israel as the primary voting issue when choosing the President of the United States.

But it shouldn’t be.  For those living in America, I would encourage you to exercise your right and cast your vote. And definitely keep Israel on the table when you make your decision. But don’t lose sight of the plethora of non-Israel related issues as well.

And for those of us who have chosen to build our homes and our lives away from the wonderful nation of our birth, I would encourage you to not risk allowing your family’s house to burn to the ground just because you wanted to hold onto their fire extinguishers.

About the Author
Asher Zeiger grew up (well, sort of) in North Carolina and moved to Israel in 1988. He lives in Modi'in with his wife and two daughters, and works as freelance writer, editor and translator. In his spare time, he tries hard at not taking himself or life too seriously (successfully) and at unwrapping himself from around his daughters' little fingers (not so successfully).