WZO sponsored event
WZO sponsored eventPhoto: WZO

Two recent elections dramatize the growing dichotomy between the consensus of grassroots American Jewry and how it is publicly represented; they also recapitulate the religious-secular struggle that preceded the signing of Israel’s Declaration of Independence.

The recent seven-week U.S. election for delegates to the World Zionist Organization garnered 123,629 votes, more than double the turnout of the last election in 2015 and the highest number since the election began for the entire American Jewish community 30 years ago.

It yielded a plurality of promoters of its Jerusalem Program as vital and positive elements of contemporary Jewish life: “This manifesto is dedicated to instilling the centrality of Israel *and its capital Jerusalem* deep within Jewish consciousness, encouraging the return to Zion, fashioning an exemplary society in the Jewish state, expanding Zionist education including Hebrew language instruction, settling the land, and combating Anti-Semitism.” (Emphasis added.)

This vividly contrasts with how the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations continues hewing to left-wing policies and politics, to the detriment of yeoman efforts by the Zionist Organization of America to preclude the organizational crack-up triggered by an ambush election of a “post-Jewish” CoP Chairwoman, Dianne Lob.

The Jewish Telegraphic Agency portrayed the ZOA as “ right-wingers” in its skewed portrayal of a “compromise” that merely delayed her ascendency for a year; this contrasts with how the Jewish News Syndicate accurately detailed alleged “bylaw violations and strong-arming” without stooping to use of pejorative characterizations.

Unfortunately, proposed remedies fail to acknowledge (let alone counter) myriad facts in the ZOA’s letter which inter alia documented links—on Lob’s watch—between HIAS and Jew-Hater & Israel-Basher Linda Sarsour; the ZOA also undermined the claim by HIAS that it doesn’t work with BDS-promoters.

Her supporters portrayed ZOA’s President, Mort Klein, as fringe and a fire-breather espousing radical goals by conducting a nasty campaign; as some journalists failed to convey the fractious nature of what had transpired, Young Jews for Responsible Leadership circulated a petition opposing Lob.

The JNS captured the essence of what has been transpiring: “For years, the CoP has remained a steadfast supporter of Israeli government policy as other better-funded Jewish communal organizations, including the Jewish Federation of North America (JFNA), the American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC), the Anti-Defamation League (ADL), HIAS and others have grown increasingly critical of Israel’s approach to critical issues including the ongoing Israeli-Palestinian conflict.”

Alignment of these organizations with the Democrat Party has raised the fear that the CoP “may soon join other organizations that have shifted their outlooks further left as well, and ultimately out of line with the center-right policies of the State of Israel—now the largest Jewish community in the world.”

This contrasts with the hostility of these entities toward the views of President Trump and other Republican leaders, who have staunchly defended Israeli government policies; no longer does the CoP act by “consensus.”

The history of the core conflict between the ZOA and HIAS has been summarized from varying perspectives by CarolineGlick, Ron Kampeas, Mort Klein, Jacob Kornbluh and Melissa Weiss, Noah Kulwin, and Alex Traiman.

Amidst this ongoing political turmoil in Israel and in America, the 38th session of the World Zionist Organization (established in 1897 by Theodor Herzl) will convene for its in Jerusalem, Israel on October 20–22, 2020. Its Congress is composed of 500 delegates: 38% from Israel (199 seats), 29% from the United States (152 seats), and 33% from the rest of the Jewish diaspora (173 seats).

Non-U.S. data haven’t been released, but the composition of the CoP contrasts with how Americans will be represented in the WZO, after nearly 1800 candidates on 15 slates have been apportioned per the election rules.

Although there is no official threshold that must be met for inclusion (unlike “3.25%” in Knesset elections), any slate that did not receive at least 813 (123,629/152) votes will not receive at least one mandate. This seemingly eliminates two slates (totaling 1144), Israel Shelanu (769) and Ohavei Zion (375); this also probably yields the awarding of two delegates each to Shas Olami (2046) and Kol Yisrael (1752), plus one delegate each to Dorshei Torah V’Tziyon (1373), Herut Zionists (1157), Vision (1036), and Americans4Israel (857).

The larger remaining seven slates would then vie for the remaining 145 votes (152-7), derivative of the returns from those that didn’t make the cut (2) and minor slates (6); this would drop the “denominator” to 122,485 (123,629-1144).

They may be trisected by whether they are “Halakhic” (traditional) vs. “moderate” (Two-State Solution advocates) vs. “Progressive” (pro-Palestinian Arab). Those advocating Torah Values (totaling 60,166) include the Orthodox Israel Coalition - Mizrachi (21,698), Eretz Hakodesh (20,023), the ZOA Coalition (10,313), and the American Forum for Israel (8,132). The non-Orthodox include the Reform (31,500) and Conservative (14,666) Movements, with the possibility that some of the latter might join the “classical” bloc [vide infra]; Hatikvah (7,932) would probably channel the Soros-backed platform.

The electoral dichotomy between the CoP and the WZO is stark; whereas pro-Zionist delegates will comprise the majority of the latter, pro-Zionist organizations were vastly outvoted in the former.
Thus, the raw numbers suggest a virtual tie between Israeli Nationalists (60,166) and those who might be less adherent to such traditions (54,098); refinement will emerge after “The number of votes cast for each slate shall be divided by the election quota and the result, disregarding fractions, shall be the number of seats received by the list, prior to the distribution of remaining votes.”

A subcontext that could emerge when particular religious issues arise is whether individual delegates may be predisposed to challenge the “Datican.” (This is slang for the Israeli Religious Authority, meshing “Dat”—Hebrew for “Religion”—and what might be viewed as the ensconced Ministry.) It controls many civil affairs (aliyah, marriage license, holiday store closings, burial) and, illustrative of how complex this small country can be, is how availability of bus transport reflects this religious-secular rift.

The electoral dichotomy between the CoP and the WZO is stark; whereas pro-Zionist delegates will comprise the majority of the latter, pro-Zionist organizations were vastly outvoted in the former, 31-8 (with five abstentions and five no-shows).

The operational solution to these dilemmas is to hope Israelis and Americans apply mamlachtiut—placing one’s own interests aside for the greater good; this entails subordinating political and sectoral interests (or “Israel before everything,” to cite the election slogan of the Blue and White party).

For David Ben-Gurion, mamlachtiut captured tension between re-establishing the state of Israel as an orderly and delimited institutional project, and perceiving Eretz Yisrael as a means to engage in an exalted process of redemption.

If the WZO is to view applying this concept as an instrument through which to fulfill an infinite vision—to be “a state in the making”—the CoP must do likewise and adopt an impartial perspective when addressing the ZOA’s concerns.

The majority of American Jews, albeit under-represented by the number of dues-paying member organizations in the CoP, deserve no less.

Dr. Robert Sklaroff is a political/medical activist who voted for the ZOA Slate.