The Vision movement, which represents the younger generation of Jewish activists in the World Zionist Congress, succeeded after months of struggle on Monday to restore the student voter discount that had been taken away by the U.S. Area Elections Committee (AEC) of the American Zionist Movement (AZM).
In previous elections, the voting fee was $10 but voters aged 18-30 paid a discounted fee of $5, which allowed more young Jews the ability to participate in the elections. But several months ago, the AEC voted to move to a flat voting fee for all U.S. voters in the upcoming WZC elections, regardless of age.
The fee hike for students was challenged by Vision, a combined slate of campus activists and community organizers from LAVI , Doreinu, and a number of other movements fighting to empower young voices within the Jewish political establishment and to force what they consider to be “crucial conversations about Jewish liberation in the 21st century.”
The Vision slate called itself the “Alliance for New Zionist Vision” in the previous congress, where they succeeded in narrowly passing a bill (by 51%) declaring the Jewish people indigenous to the Land of Israel.
After unsuccessfully challenging the student voter fee hike in November, Danit Felber of LAVI and Yehuda Katz of Doreinu submitted a formal request to the AEC and AZM to return to a pricing policy that would offer voters aged 18-25 a discount that would encourage them to participate.
“The next generation must have a strong voice in deciding who shapes that future,” said Felber. “As they will be the ones who have to live with the decisions made today for decades to come.”
Felber further argued that raising the cost of voting for students would send a message to young Jews that their participation isn’t valued in Zionist institutions.
“While the committee lowered the cost of registration by 25% for the older generation from $10 to $7.50, it raised the cost for students by 50% from $5 to $7.50,” she said.
“Taking into consideration the difference between what $2.50 means to a student versus to those already well-established in the workforce, we feel this change sends a message that the AZM under-prioritizes the participation of students.”
Samantha Muskat of American University, the second candidate on the Vision slate, recently made the claim in Vision magazine that the World Zionist Congress consistently shows itself to be uninterested in student participation.
In addition to the recent fee hike for young voters, Muskat pointed to the fact that the congress itself is scheduled to take place in Jerusalem during October 2020 - a time when most students in the U.S. are taking their midterm exams and many just recently missed school for the high holidays.
“If the World Zionist Congress valued student participation, it would be scheduled at a time when students could more easily participate,” said Muskat. “Summer break, winter break, spring break are all options. The combination of the increased price for student voters with the time of year they schedule the congress for gives me the feeling they don’t really want my generation involved.”
New York University student Simon Kofman, who heads the Vision slate, represented the movement at Monday’s crucial vote.
Unlike Muskat, Kofman viewed the student fee hike as an error and saw the best way to correct the error as working with the elections committee.
“I don’t believe the AZM is intentionally trying to keep young voices out of the congress,” said Kofman. “In fact, they often claim to want more youth participation. They know that the decisions being made at the WZO impact the next generation and they support Vision’s efforts to fill the congress with young delegates.”
“I assume that the price hike for student voters wasn’t intentional but really just an accident that occurred in the midst of attempts to lower fees for the older generation. But now that we’ve identified the mistake, we needed the AZM to work with us in setting things right.”
Kofman did acknowledge, however, that he faced fierce opposition from slates opposed to the student discount.
At an earlier AEC meeting on November 4, opposing factions attempted to prevent a discussion on the issue from taking place but failed to garner the necessary two-thirds majority to kill the issue.
On November 12, the elections committee voted against Vision’s request to restore the discount to Jews 18-30 but expressed willingness to consider a new proposal if it could fit the AZM’s budgetary needs.
Felber and Katz then submitted a new proposal lowering the discount eligibility age to 18-25. Felber also said she had been in touch with AZM officials to make sure the numbers would work out.
Being a small faction within the AZM, the Vision activists needed help from other slates in order to win Monday’s vote.
This assistance came from the ZOA/Likud, Herut and World Mizrachi slates, as well as the Reform movement’s ARZA Zionist wing - which Kofman said argued passionately on behalf of Vision’s proposal. Together, these groups were able to overcome the opposition.
“There are clearly other slates who understand the importance of keeping the younger generation involved in Zionist issues and came to fight alongside us,” said Vision leader Rudy Rochman, adding that “we were only successful due to the support of these allies.”
World Zionist Organization Vice Chairman and World Likud Chairman Yaakov Hagoel said: "I warmly welcome the decision to add more young blood to the Zionist movement, which today needs much strengthening in the face of important challenges."