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PM said backing law to allow Israelis living abroad to vote

Likud official reportedly says legislation aims to increase proportion of Jewish voters at polls to reduce number of Arab MKs

Counting ballots from soldiers and absentees at the Knesset in Jerusalem, a day after the general elections, March 18, 2015. (Photo credit: Miriam Alster/FLASH90)
Counting ballots from soldiers and absentees at the Knesset in Jerusalem, a day after the general elections, March 18, 2015. (Photo credit: Miriam Alster/FLASH90)

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is planning to advance legislation which would grant voting rights to Israelis living abroad, in an apparent attempt to raise the ratio of Jewish to Arab MKs in the next Knesset, a Likud party official reportedly said Wednesday.

“The important goal is to increase the proportion of Jewish voters at the polls,” the official told Haaretz.

According to the report, the official stated that the bill was still in the works, adding that the legislation would only be advanced if it received the support of all future coalition parties. The Likud official went on to say that the bill would be restricted only to Israelis residing abroad for a limited number of years.

Israeli Arabs emerged from the March 17 Knesset election with more political clout but also a greater sense of exclusion, after Netanyahu rallied his supporters by suggesting a high turnout of Arab voters would put his rule in danger. The prime minister had warned that “Arab voters are going in droves to the polls,” with the help of “left-wing” activists. A posting on his Facebook page at midday during the balloting said the high turnout by Arab voters was putting right-wing rule “in danger.”

He later apologized for the remark.

Arabs had in fact voted in larger numbers than in previous elections and turned the main party representing them, the Joint (Arab) List, into the third-largest in parliament, signaling they are more willing to work within the political system to seek equality. But some also said the campaign, which has polarized Israeli society, reflected an increasingly hostile atmosphere toward Arabs.

Ayman Odeh, the head of the Joint (Arab) List, has told The Associated Press that anti-Arab rhetoric by Netanyahu and Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman — who regularly accuses Arab politicians of representing terrorist groups — poses an “existential threat” to Arab citizens.

Odeh said his party, which won 13 seats in the 120-member Knesset, will respond by fighting to improve the lives of 1.7 million Arabs, who account for just over 20 percent of Israel’s population. He has said his party will work on shared issues with center-left Jewish opposition parties and seek membership in key parliamentary committees.

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