Critical Zionist Election Underway in U.S.

Up to a billion dollars in support for various Jewish and Zionist organizations are at stake in the election now underway in the U.S. for the World Zionist Congress. Registration ends Wednesday.

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Hillel Fendel, | updated: 11:47

The vote-by-mail election in the United States will choose the 145 American delegates to the all-important Congress, which will be held in Jerusalem in June 2006. The American delegation is the largest from outside of Israel, accounting for 30% of the entire Congress and therefore having a major impact on setting policy.

Registration, which costs $7 ($5 for students), can be effected here. The deadline is tomorrow, Wednesday, Feb. 15.

According to the constitution of the World Zionist Organization, delegations from all countries except Israel are determined by internal elections. The Israeli representation is set according to the Zionist parties' relative strength in the Knesset at the time of the Congress.

In the tradition of the first Zionist Congress assembled by Binyamin Ze'ev (Theodore) Herzl in Basel in 1897, the Congress - sometimes known as the "Parliament of the Jewish People" - convenes every 4-5 years in Israel to set Jewish Agency and World Zionist Organization policies.

Since 1948, the Jewish Agency and WZO have served as the extra-governmental arm of the State of Israel in areas in which the government cannot operate. They work to preserve and enrich Jewish life around the world, strengthening and supporting Jewish and Zionist education, promoting Aliyah, and even rescuing Jews from distressed countries.

Various Jewish-U.S. organizations are making great efforts to sign up voters for their slates. Religious and nationalist organizations, in particular, are anxious to ensure that the current election does not follow the pattern of the last one. "Four years ago," writes Susie Dym of Cities of Israel, "the extreme left (Reform, Meretz, Peace Now) grabbed half of the votes simply because they registered people diligently. It is to be hoped that the hawks (right) will follow their good example this time."

A website promoting support for the Religious Zionist slate notes that in the last American election, the Religious Zionist delegation emerged as the third largest delegation in the U.S., surpassed only by the Reform and Conservative movements. "As a result," it explains, "the Religious Zionist movement retained or achieved control for such critical WZO departments as the Settlement Division and the Center for Religious Affairs in the Diaspora... In order to protect these gains and build on them, the Religious Zionist movement must surpass the results of the last election."

The religious-Zionist slate in the current election includes delegates from Young Israel, Yeshiva University, AMIT, Religious Zionists of America and the Orthodox Union.

Other lists promoting religious or nationalist views include the Zionist Organization of America (ZOA), whose delegates include ZOA President Morton Klein, Steven Orlow, Dr. Irving Moskowitz, and others; Herut North America; and American Friends of Likud.

Other slates in the race include the Jewish Reconstructionist Federation, Hatikvah and ARZA (Association of Reform Zionists in America), all of which prominently promote pluralism in their agendas.

Eligible voters are Jews who will be 18 by June 30, 2006, who reside permanently in the United States, and who accept the Jerusalem Program. The Jerusalem Program is a Zionist manifesto expressing the agreed-upon goals of Zionism, including Aliyah, Jewish unity, Jewish bonds to the Land of Israel and Jerusalem, settlement, Jewish education, and more.

A list of the platforms can be seen here.