A new law proposed this week by Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu to allow Israeli citizens living out of the country to vote in the elections could cause a split in his own coalition.
Israeli law allows only official representatives of the government to vote outside the country. Various proposals in the past to allow expatriate voting for the estimated one million Israelis living abroad have never garnered enough support.
This time around, the law could have the support of significant parts of the coalition. Mr Netanyahu promised Avigdor Lieberman, leader of Yisrael Beiteinu, the second largest party in the coalition, that he would support such a law as part of the coalition agreement that enabled him to become PM.
Mr Netanyahu explained on Monday that the new law would strengthen the connection between the country and citizens living abroad, and that many Western countries already allowed expatriate voting.
But his other senior coalition partner, Labour Leader Ehud Barak, criticised the proposal, saying that “in Israel’s special circumstances, the voters should be those who are here with us and facing all the dangers”.
The head of the opposition, Kadima leader Tzipi Livni, called the proposal “anti-Zionist”.
Almost all the politicians speaking for and against the law used ideological reasons to make their case, but many in the Knesset believe that the motives are more practical and political.
The main backer of the vote is Yisrael Beiteinu, most of whose voters were born in the former Soviet Union. Large numbers of “Russian Jews” with Israeli passports live in North America and an estimated 90,000 have returned to Russia after emigrating to Israel.
Other parties on the right also believe that if expatriates were allowed to vote, it would mainly benefit the right wing, as the larger, more organised groups of Israelis living abroad tend to be more religious and nationalistic.
Significantly, all the parties from the centre leftwards have announced that they will oppose the law, and so have a number of MKs within Likud itself.
One of the problems with the new proposal is that it is still unclear exactly which expatriate Israelis will be allowed to vote.
A draft proposal prepared by two Yisrael Beiteinu MKs, who plan to bring it to vote in the Knesset in the next few weeks, allows for any holder of a valid Israeli passport to vote. In the Likud, two other proposals have been floating around.
One would give a vote to people who left Israel up to six years before the elections and who have spent at least 40 days in the country during that time. The other proposal gives the vote only to people who lived in Israel in the previous four years.
Shas, one of the parties opposed to the idea, has proposed allowing only Israelis who had left the country in the two months before the elections to vote abroad.
Shas also has a political reason to oppose expatriate voting. Many of the Israelis living abroad are Ashkenazi Charedim, who would naturally vote for Shas’s rival, United Torah Judaism.