Tuesday will mark the commencement of the 36th World Zionist Congress in Jerusalem, the first such congress that will see the Shas faction as a formal member of the Zionist movement. After years of being labeled a “non-Zionist” party, Shas – which represents a largely hareidi-religious Sephardic constituency – stunned many this year by officially defining itself
UN General Assembly’s 2007 Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous People: “Indigenous peoples shall not be forcibly removed from their lands or territories."
as Zionist and requesting to join the World Zionist Organization, founded by Herzl in 1897 as the midwife to the future Jewish state.
Despite fiery criticism from Ashkenazi hareidi factions and skepticism from other movements within the WZO, Shas is entering the congress with a focused determination and heavy legislative agenda. It has already placed a proposal on the congress’ agenda that would change the language of the WZO’s formal doctrinal document, the “Jerusalem Program.” Instead of seeking a Jewish state “marked by mutual respect for the multi-faceted Jewish people,” the Shas proposal would see the Zionist movement supporting a state committed to “love of the Jewish people,” and in place of “an exemplary society… rooted in the vision of the prophets,” that society would be based on “the Torah of Israel.”
This proposal has been taken as a direct challenge to the non-Orthodox Diaspora Jewish movements, which together with their allies from Israel’s Knesset, make up over 40 percent of the delegates to the Congress.
Resolution: Jews Aren't Occupiers
Another, less controversial, Shas resolution has been quietly gaining support among a coalition of Jewish organizations. Nissim Ze’ev, a Shas MK currently chairing the Knesset Caucus for Israel and Global Ethics, is spearheading an initiative against the delegitimization of the Jewish state, which would require the WZO to declare the Jewish people as indigenous inhabitants of the Land of Israel.
MK Ze’ev told Israel National News on Monday that his proposal calls upon the WZO to “impose upon the Presidium of the Zionist General Council and the Zionist Executive to coordinate with the relevant bodies and the Knesset Caucus for Israel and Global Ethics the task of combating the delegitimization campaign currently being waged against the right of Jews to execute their rights as the indigenous people of the Land of Israel in accordance with the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous People and the U.N. resolutions on the Culture of Peace.”
This right, according to Ze’ev, counters the false claim that Jews are “occupiers” in their homeland. “In accordance with international law," Ze'ev said, "the Jewish people have the right to live in all parts of their indigenous homeland and to maintain and develop their religious and cultural identity as indigenous to the land. Our efforts will be implemented within Jewish communities in Israel and in the Diaspora, in the national and global media, in the academic arena and in the diplomatic arenas.”
The Shas proposal already enjoys broad support from a number of organizations, including World Likud, the Zionist Organization of America, L’Herut Tzion, the Zionist Freedom Alliance, Justice Now!, Kumah and the American Israeli Action Coalition.
The initiative’s supporters argue that the resolution is not only geared towards improving Jewish education and Israel advocacy initiatives, but also has far reaching legal ramifications. The United Nations currently recognizes as indigenous any nation that declares itself as such, and according to section 10 of the UN General Assembly’s 2007 Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous People, “indigenous peoples shall not be forcibly removed from their lands or territories. No relocation shall take place without the free, prior and informed consent of the indigenous peoples concerned and after agreement on just and fair compensation and, where possible, with the option of return.”
Israel fits all the criteria to be recognized internationally as indigenous natives to the Land of Israel, and the only current requirement is a public declaration from a representative body of the Jewish people, whether it be from Israel’s Knesset, the WZO or even the Council of Jewish Communities in Judea and Samaria.
“This is very significant with regard to the rights of all Jews in relation to their ancestral homeland,” said Ze’ev. “It is especially significant for the Jewish residents of Judea, Samaria, Jerusalem and the Golan Heights who are constantly under the threat of forced expulsions from their lands.”