Vote in the Other Jewish Election

The World Zionist Congress has more power than you think to affect things in Israel. Elections are coming up.

Dr. Harold Goldmeier

OpEds Dr. Harold Goldmeier
Dr. Harold Goldmeier

I am dismayed by an email response from a close friend and Zionist activist.  I asked his assistance setting speaking engagements for members of the Alliance for a New Zionist Vision, a group of young adults campaigning to be elected this October as delegates to the 37th World Zionist Congress. My friend writes:

“It is not something that I even know where to start…. I am also totally ignorant of the WZO and this conference.  The extent of my knowledge is that   I have a vague recollection of RZC (Religious Zionists of Chicago) sending us ballots to vote for the RZA (Religious Zionists of America) several years ago.  So I really am the wrong person to assist.”

My friend is a businessman with a lifetime commitment to Jewish communal affairs. His email speaks volumes about the lack of penetration into the body politic by the World Zionist Organization.  WZC elects officers and sets policies for WZO and the Jewish Agency.

The WZO/WZC wield great influence affecting international affairs. The budget for the WZO Settlements Division is estimated to range between $50m and more than $150m depending on the total allocated and transfers made from other departments for projects. WZO budget from Israel government allocations for diaspora education and Jewish advocacy and identity programs are reported to exceed $35m.

WZO/WZC agendas are more classical than current. Perhaps it is time young adults take some of the reins, setting the agenda with the passion and impatience of youth. That’s why I encourage support for ANZV. For instance, it is no longer enough to monitor BDS activities. An inspired activist campaign confronting anti-Zionists is critical.

Ben-Gurion lost his battle to dissolve WZO after Israel statehood, and continues to function in partnership with The Jewish Agency.  According to a State of Israel web site, WZO handles “the organization, propaganda, education, immigrant absorption from industrialized countries, settlement beyond the ‘Green Line,’ and supervision over the Jewish National Fund.”  WZO influences the gigantic budgets of sister communal agencies. The WZO is the vox populi of Jewish Diaspora spreading WZO’s interpretation of Jewish community opinion to the Israeli government.

The WZO/WZC are trapped in a web of controversies.

First, the organizations border on the invisible.

Second, new groups are knocking on WZO/WZC doors this election year. The ZOA (Zionist Organization of America) recently filed election complaints against several organizations. ZOA charges supporters of BDS and settlement boycotts makes them anti-Israel ineligible for WZC inclusion. Israel, too, is fielding political parties with alternative agendas to run for Knesset seats in its March elections. 

Third, WZO/WZC lacks transparency. Their agendas, effectiveness, budgets and sources of income ought be posted on line. Lack of transparency in NGOs breeds corruption. In an age of alleged financial misdeeds by groups like the Metropolitan Council on Jewish Poverty and some Holocaust organizations, WZO/WZC need to get out front about last December’s Israel Police raid on WZO Settlement Division offices. The police confiscated documents and other materials.

One former WZO executive recently told me WZO’s role is an arm’s length relationship, a mere technicality, with little or no oversight of the Settlement Division. WZO has clean hands in the matter. But the relationship is unhealthy and unwise for a prestigious NGO with such deep roots in domestic and foreign affairs.

A leftist Knesset MK charges the government uses the WZO cover to keep funding of settlement expansion secret from the public. Twenty years ago Daniel Elazar noted, “the WZO finances and administers agricultural projects in the administered territories, because it is understood that the (U.S. IRS) does not want tax-exempt money to be used across the 1949 armistice lines,” and it remains the case today. The European Union takes an ever stronger stance suggesting member States consider boycotting settlement projects.

Following an article I wrote, the recently created Alliance for New Zionist Vision contacted me. They put forth a slate of young adult candidates for election of delegates to the WZC. The Alliance is a coalition of grassroots groups. One can examine them to see who they are. Their chief concerns are reversing the trend of dwindling Jewish identification and protecting Israel’s legitimacy on university campuses. “The Alliance for New Zionist Vision aims to empower the next generation’s most dedicated young Zionists with the ability to shape the decisions of the official Zionist movement as delegates to the upcoming World Zionist Congress.”

The Alliance is the fruit of Lavi Olami, a student group with pedagogical advocacy and leadership training programs. Lavi’s campus objectives are to get young people familiar with Zionism and critically examine its foundations in the 21st century. International university students I teach believe Jewish communal organizations are better raising money than managing effective programs. They report feeling vulnerable to verbal and physical threats, and don’t know where to turn for moral support, advocacy and skill training to combat the haters. These issues can be raised in the WZC, and moved high on the agenda.

Maybe young people scare old souls. Young people are advocates for change, harbor no historical vested interests, often are not out for financial gain, power and control.

Supporting the Alliance may be a tough choice for members of legacy Jewish communal groups, but now is the time to untie the apron strings and give young people a chance. To them, I share Dr. Seuss’s message of inspiration:

“Unless someone like you cares a whole awful lot, nothing is going to get better. IT”S NOT.”