Super Tuesday

Haim Watzman I’m guest blogging this week on the Jewish Book Council’s “The Prosenpeople” and My Jewish Learning’s “Members of the Scribe” blogs. My Dad and I never watched the Superbowl together. Nor the NBA championships, the World Cup, or the World Series. In my family, the only person who watched sports on television was … Read more

No Choice: The Unbearable Angst of the Israeli Voter

Haim Watzman

I envy Americans. The choice they face in their coming election is so clear. The choice we Israelis will face in our next election couldn’t be more muddled.

The choice in the United States is so stark because nearly every policy the Republican administration has put into action has failed, and in just the ways that the Democrats predicted. The implosion of the economy, the metastasization of the national debt, the failure of the adventure in Iraq, the destabilization of the Middle East and now the Russian periphery, the impending disappearance of the arctic ice cap–you name it, the Democrats were right and the Republicans were wrong. During the last eight years, the Democrats erred only when a) they assumed that the Republicans would pursue a risky policy in a responsible way (as in Iraq) or b) when they were too frightened to speak up clearly against insane policies that were popular with the electorate (as with the Bush tax cuts).

Israel, too, faces economic and social ills and threats to its security. But here, over the last eight years, the policy choices have not been as plain, the facts on the ground have been ambiguous, and the political opposition has not offered clear alternatives. The United States has been ruled from the far right since George Bush came into office; Israel has been ruled from the center during that same period.

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On Voting Across the Sea

Since Haim quoted me on the subject of voting in America – and since his father disagreed with me – I’ll explain how my view developed.

In my Jewish home, growing up, I learned that voting was a primary mitzvah, the mark of a responsible human being. In 1980, the first US election after I came to Israel, I tried voting. I wasn’t a citizen here yet. My absentee ballot arrived from California two days before the election, with a punchcard and a little curlycue of a wire to punch the chads out. Mail was taking about two weeks to get from Jerusalem to Los Angeles in those days. There was no way I could get the ballot back in time. For a while, I used the curlycue to clean my garlic press.

After that I didn’t try again for years. Experience showed that I probably wouldn’t succeed. Besides, like Haim, I felt that my life was here. I voted and protested here and wrote about Israeli politics, and called my wife every two hours when I had reserve duty in the ninth month of her pregnancy. In the ancient days of the 1980s and early 90s, I got my news of America from the foreign page of Ha’aretz, in Hebrew, in small doses. Why should I vote over there?

In 2004, I changed my mind.

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Should Obama Get My Vote?

“Are you going to vote for Obama?” my 14-year-old daughter, Misgav, asked me the other day.

“I don’t vote in American elections,” I replied, “because I’m Israeli.”

“But you could vote, right?”

“I could,” I acknowledged. “I’m also an American citizen. But the last time I voted was in 1980. Once I decided to make my life here and began voting in Israeli elections, I didn’t think it would be right to vote in American ones, too.”

“You should vote for Obama,” Misgav said.

“Maybe I should,” I acknowledged.

It’s a dilemma. I retain my American passport and file a tax return with the IRS every year, but I don’t maintain a residence in the U.S. I have served in a foreign army and have no intention of ever returning to the country I grew up in.

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