Should people outside a democracy – if they are citizens of that democracy – be allowed to cast a ballot? It is a question which has gone on in Israel for many years and which returned in the wake of Benjamin Netanyahu’s triumph in the polls this week.
There are many elections in which citizens and non-citizens outside the country clearly prefer one candidate over another. Before the 2008 elections it was undeniably the case that international support for Barack Obama’s Presidential race vastly exceeded international support for the candidacy of John McCain. It is highly unlikely that had Senator McCain made a trip to Berlin to give a keynote speech that he would have filled a room, let alone a public space with German citizens as far as the eye could see. In 2008 the world wanted a change of American leadership. As it turned out the American people did as well so their interests aligned.
It can safely be said that much of the public and political class in the West was hoping for a change of Israeli leadership this week. The White House could barely disguise its hostility to Netanyahu’s triumph at the polls, publicly criticising remarks made in the last hours of the campaign before the White House managed a rather grudging congratulations in private. In Europe too the feeling was that a Livni-Hertzog coalition of the left would somehow deliver a different, more palatable ally with concerns for the peace process with the Palestinians somewhere nearer the top of their agenda.
But the Israeli public thought otherwise. And this is a reminder not just of the adequacy of the democratic system, but an argument against the franchise being extended to expats. Because it is easier to take risks for peace if you are not actually taking any risks yourself. The Israeli public’s high turnout in this week’s elections is partly a demonstration that they take their politics seriously, but also a demonstration that they take their security seriously. It is true that no leaps forward have been made in the Israeli-Palestinian dispute during Netanyahu’s time in office. But nor have there been any large scale terror attacks. And the response to last summer’s barrage of rockets was deemed by most of the public to be both necessary and proportionate.
When they go to the ballot box the Israeli public know that they are casting a vote which might well have an effect on the security and wellbeing of their family to an extent that most Western voters cannot imagine. Outside the country one might wish the country to be willing to take risks. But inside the country the public wishes for security and stability. Whatever one’s views on the results that fact at least deserves to be accepted and respected.