In Corridor E at Ben Gurion, election day arrivals get to vote before quarantine

Amid the pandemic, Israel’s first-ever airport polling stations are open — though not to those who are safely vaccinated, or travelers on their way out

Polling stations in Corridor E at Ben Gurion Airport, on election day, March 23, 2021 (Israel Airport Authority)
Polling stations in Corridor E at Ben Gurion Airport, on election day, March 23, 2021 (Israel Airport Authority)

BEN GURION AIRPORT — The arrival procedure for some Israelis flying home on Tuesday involved one additional step. Before passport control, customs, baggage claim and an eventual exit to the muggy outdoors, they stopped in Corridor E to cast their votes.

The Airports Authority set up four polling stations for incoming Israelis — but not for all of them, as Aaron, an ultra-Orthodox Jerusalemite who flew in from Kyiv, discovered.

Talking to The Times of Israel as he prepared to head home, Aaron was happy to say whom he would have voted for in the country’s first-ever airport voting booths — Bezalel Smotrich’s Religious Zionism party. But he wasn’t allowed to, because he’s been vaccinated.

The airport voting option was introduced because several thousand Israelis are flying in on Tuesday and many of them will be required to head straight to coronavirus-imposed quarantine. The booths in Corridor E booths give them a chance to participate in the elections before going into isolation.

Voting instructions at the polling stations in Corridor E at Ben Gurion Airport, on election day, March 23, 2021 (Israel Airport Authority)

Vaccinated returnees, however, were told by an election official to go home and vote as usual — at their registered polling station. Which is what Aaron went off to do.

Part of an apparent trend of United Torah Judaism voters who are switching to the Religious Zionism party, Aaron said he was doing so because UTJ had failed to ensure that tens of thousands of ultra-Orthodox Israelis like him, who fly to Uman in Ukraine for an annual Rosh Hashanah pilgrimage to the burial site of Rabbi Nachman of Bratslav, were not able to do so as usual mid-pandemic last September. Ignoring Health Ministry pleas and warnings, thousands tried to make their way to Ukraine but were prevented from reaching the holy site, and were blocked at airports and borders because Ukraine had closed itself off.

“I am very disappointed with the people who blocked my traveling to Uman,” said Aaron. “I have no more faith in United Torah Judaism or in [Prime Minister Benjamin] Netanyahu for handling our needs,” he said. “Later today, I intend to support Smotrich and the Religious Zionism party. He is the only politician taking care of us.”

Aaron, a Jerusalemite who flew into Ben Gurion Airport on election day, March 23, 2021 (Tal Schneider / ToI)

Ben Gurion Airport has opened up a little in the past few days, since the High Court ruled last week that a government-imposed cap of 3,000 people allowed in per day was illegal, especially with elections looming. Some 17,000 Israelis passed in and out of the airport on Sunday and Monday — rather more of them (about 10,000) leaving than returning — and Tuesday morning’s board showed incoming flights from Kyiv (08:45), Berlin (10:15), Frankfurt (11:25) and Dubai (11:35).

All passengers are required to take PCR tests before taking off for Israel and again on landing. But those who are exempt from quarantine — because they have been vaccinated or have recovered from COVID — were not permitted to vote in Corridor E.

Passengers at at Ben Gurion Airport take COVID-19 tests on election day, March 23, 2021 (Tal Schneider)

Alex, who flew in from Larnaca, Cyprus, on a private jet, is also vaccinated, and therefore was ineligible for an airport vote. He, too, was heading home to vote at his registered polling station.

But Anastasia, another arrival from Kyiv, did cast her ballot here — one of just 41 airport votes registered by noon — and said the process went smoothly.

“I’d rather not discuss my choice. I am heading straight home [to isolation],” she said.

Polling stations in Corridor E at Ben Gurion Airport, on election day, March 23, 2021 (Israel Airport Authority)

Her ballot will join several hundred thousand so-called “double envelope” ballots — votes cast by soldiers, hospital patients, prisoners, emissaries abroad, and, this time, some of the 15,000 current COVID patients and the 65,000 people in quarantine for whom a variety of voting arrangements, including drive-thru polling stations, have been put into place. These double-envelope votes must then be checked against the voter register to ensure that nobody voted twice — a process that the Central Elections Committee has warned could delay a final, official result by several days.

Outgoing Israeli citizens, flight crews, and airport workers were also not eligible to vote in Corridor E. For those leaving on the early morning flights, at least, that means this election day will have to fly by without them.

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