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For the first time, Israeli diplomats in UAE, Morocco cast their election votes

Early voting takes place in Israel’s new diplomatic offices ahead of March 23

Ilan Sztulman Starosta, the head of the Israeli consulate in Dubai, casts an early vote ahead of Israel's March 23 elections. (Screenshot/Twitter)
Ilan Sztulman Starosta, the head of the Israeli consulate in Dubai, casts an early vote ahead of Israel's March 23 elections. (Screenshot/Twitter)

Israeli diplomats in the United Arab Emirates and Morocco voted from the newly-opened diplomatic outposts for the first time on Thursday, as Israeli emissaries abroad kicked off early voting ahead of the March 23 elections.

Ilan Sztulman Starosta, the head of the Israeli consulate in Dubai, said, “For the first time, the head of a representative office in an Arab country is voting in honor of the State of Israel.”

Voting was also set to take place for the first time in Bahrain and Abu Dhabi. Israel established diplomatic relations with the UAE, Morocco and Bahrain, as well as with Sudan and Bhutan, since the last national election in March 2020.

The Central Elections Committee posted a video of voting taking place in the Moroccan capital of Rabat.

Voting also took place Thursday in Jordan, Serbia, the US, Japan and Vietnam, among other locations.

The Central Elections Committee said some 4,000 people were eligible to vote at 99 representative offices worldwide.

Early voting for Israeli diplomats and staff at the country’s embassies abroad began on Wednesday evening, with the envoy to New Zealand casting the first vote in the elections.

Ambassador Ran Yaakoby voted at a booth set up for diplomatic staff at the embassy in Wellington, which opened at 10 p.m. Israel time Wednesday.

The final votes to be cast from abroad will be in Los Angeles and San Francisco.

According to Israeli law, private citizens living abroad cannot vote unless they come to Israel, but exceptions are made for diplomats and their families.

Ran Yaakoby, Israel’s ambassador to New Zealand casting his ballot as early voting opened for diplomats in the coming elections, March 10, 2021 (Foreign Ministry)

The law against absentee voting caused controversy in recent weeks after Israel halted flights and barred international travelers due to the pandemic, stranding thousands of citizens abroad ahead of the election. The airport has since been opened.

The upcoming election is Israel’s second to take place under the shadow of the pandemic. The previous election, in March 2020, was held shortly after the coronavirus first reached the country, with several special polling stations serving the relatively few people who had then been suspected or confirmed to have contracted the virus or come in contact with confirmed carriers.

Israel will fund special shuttles to polling stations for active COVID-19 patients during the upcoming vote, a top official said Monday, alongside further adaptations forced by the pandemic that will turn the election into the most expensive in the country’s history.

Central Elections Committee (CEC) director Orly Adas also told reporters that dozens of buses will be converted into ballot stations for people in quarantine and to lower crowding in certain polling stations.

The committee is weighing placing voting stations at Ben Gurion Airport so that arrivals to the country will be able to vote before entering home quarantine.

There are currently close to 37,000 active COVID-19 cases in the country, and tens of thousands of people are in quarantine.

Workers at the Central Elections Committee warehouse in Modiin, ahead of the upcoming elections. February 23, 2021. (Flash90)

The parliament’s Economic Affairs Committee approved the CEC’s budget, totaling NIS 674 million ($202 million), including NIS 237 million ($71 million) for facing the challenges posed by the coronavirus crisis.

There will be some 15,000 voting stations throughout the country, more than the normal 11,000, Adas said, in hopes of limiting potential infections at crowded stations.

But Adas noted that there was still a shortage of thousands of employees for ballot stations serving COVID-19 patients and those in quarantine. She called on volunteers in first aid organizations, health care workers and medical students to fill that gap.

Adas added that the CEC was still devising a plan for how to count the ballots and verify the results, with the number of absentee ballots expected to be double the normal amount.

The week-long Passover festival also poses a challenge, starting three days after the election. Adas said the goal is to complete the tally within two days.

The election is Israel’s fourth in under two years, amid an unprecedented political crisis that failed to produce a government after the first two votes in 2019 and yielded a short-lived unity government after the third. The vote is largely regarded as a referendum on Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s leadership, including his handling of the coronavirus crisis and his trial on corruption charges.

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