American voters in 34 states will be voting this week on no less than 163 referendums and ballot initiatives, on issues from tobacco taxation to bear baiting. Why can t Israeli voters have one referendum, on the life-and-death issue of whether or not to unilaterally retreat from strategic territory and forcibly transfer 8300 Jews from their homes?
That is the question that is increasingly at the center of public discussion in Israel, with four cabinet ministers, led by Finance Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, vowing to resign next week unless Prime Minister Sharon agrees to a national referendum on the Gaza retreat proposal.
According to the Washington Post (November 1, 2004), the referendums and ballot initiatives that will be presented to American voters in various states tomorrow include tobacco taxation… bear baiting… same-sex marriage… stem cell research… self-financing bonds in North Carolina… the abolition of a food sales tax in South Dakota… limits on property taxes in Washington and Maine… and gambling-related issues in numerous states.
Meanwhile, a poll conducted by the Teleseker firm for the Israeli daily Ma ariv on September 13, 2004, found that 69% of Israelis want a national referendum on the Gaza retreat plan, as compared to only 26% who think the retreat decision should be made by the Knesset only.
The 69% level of support is an increase from the 60% that an earlier poll found. A poll on September 8, 2004 by the Maagar Mochot firm, for Israel Radio, found 60% of Israelis favor holding such a referendum, and only 17% are opposed. In addition, a ZOA-commissioned poll on October 18-19, by Israel s leading pollster, Hanoch Smith of the Smith Research Institute, found that 57% of Israelis oppose unilateral Israeli retreat from Gaza unless the plan is supported by a majority of the public in a national referendum.
Morton A. Klein, National President of the Zionist Organization of America (ZOA), said: Withdrawing from Gaza means grave risks for Israel s security, as well as ending Israel’s presence in territories that have been an integral part of the Jewish homeland since biblical times. It means rewarding and encouraging terrorists. It means engaging in ethnic cleansing something that has always been strongly condemned throughout the Jewish world. Anything less than a broad consensus, as determined in a national referendum, would leave Israeli society severely polarized. That is too high a price for Israelis indeed, for world Jewry to pay.
The ZOA notes that a June 2004 survey by the Israeli polling agency Geocartography found 64% of Israelis do not believe leaving Gaza will decrease the threat of missiles fired by terrorists at pre-1967 Israel, and 71% do not believe retreating from Gaza will slow down the flow of weapons from Egypt to the terrorists in Gaza.
ZOA president Klein also pointed to the fact that the Gaza withdrawal plan dramatically contradicts the platform on which Ariel Sharon was overwhelmingly elected prime minister: During the last election campaign in Israel, Labor Party candidate Amram Mitzna urged unilateral withdrawal from Gaza and Sharon opposed it. He was elected on the basis of his opposition to unilateral withdrawal; Israel s voters should have the right to say if they, like Sharon, have changed their minds.
The Zionist Organization of America, founded in 1897, is the oldest pro-Israel organization in the United States. The ZOA works to strengthen U.S.-Israel relations, educates the American public and Congress about the dangers that Israel faces, and combats anti-Israel bias in the media and on college campuses. Its past presidents have included Supreme Court Justice Louis Brandeis and Rabbi Dr. Abba Hillel Silver.