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Eric Freeman

Israeli parliament likely to pass the "Omri Casspi bill"

Eric Freeman
Ball Don't Lie

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Kings forward Omri Casspi(notes) has been a marketing wonder since entering the league last season. As one of the NBA's two Jewish players -- respect, Jordan Farmar(notes) -- and the league's first Israeli, Casspi has become a fan favorite on the road, where Jews like me can appreciate one of their own and engage in some identity wish-fulfillment. (Why we never latched on to Farmar in the same way is a discussion for another time.)

Casspi's fame in this country is matched by his profile in Israel, where he's become a source of national pride. But his status as an Israeli abroad has also brought up some important political issues, including his voting rights. With that in mind, the Knesset, the Israeli national legislature, has brought forth a bill to allow citizens who live in other countries to vote in elections. From the Jerusalem Post (via Sactown Royalty via PBT):

Senior Likud officials said that out of the three issues set to be raised, the most likely change was the so-called Omri Casspi bill, which would allow some Israelis abroad to vote and which is named after the Sacramento Kings player who is the first Israeli to play in the NBA. [...]

The coalition agreement requires that there be a vote on enabling Israelis abroad to vote, but the same agreement gives every faction veto power over changes in the electoral system. Shas has threatened to use its veto to oppose a bill allowing Israelis living abroad for more than two months to vote.

Israel has a complicated relationship with its borders, to say the least, and that includes immigration and emigration. The Israeli law of return allows any Jew or anyone of Jewish ancestry to come to the country and gain citizenship, but citizens are expected to give a lot to the country, including three years of military service. Casspi carried out that duty while playing in Israel, but it's easy to see how he or another citizen could move to another country and be seen as withholding valuable contributions to what's still a relatively young nation in a near-constant state of controversy.

This bill isn't about military service, but the issue is tied to the same sense of duty to one's country. Remember, the Jerusalem-born Natalie Portman (nee Hershlag) is still a figure of controversy in Israel for arguably skipping out on her military service even though she hasn't lived there since she was three years old. This would be a relatively mild reform that seems likely to pass, but it's still notable for how it opens up what has previously been a very strict rule against Israelis abroad.

We usually look at foreign players in the NBA as ambassadors for their countries to a North American populace that might not know much about the realities of those areas of the world -- think Yao Ming(notes) with China or Samuel Dalembert(notes) with Haiti. But it's important to remember that these athletes also can shed new light on domestic issues in their homelands, too. We live in an increasingly globalized world, and people like Casspi who perform for mass audiences thousands of miles from home only make that clearer.

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