Haredi soldier
Haredi soldier Flash 90

Seeing the Haredi presence at the World Zionist Congress described as a “hostile takeover” was disappointing, but hardly surprising. Even prior to the elections, slates like Mercaz USA, representing the Conservative movement, and ARZA, comprising the Reform and Reconstructionist streams, derided Haredim as “religious extremists and zealots” and depicted Haredi participation in a democratic vote as “threatening... the basic tenets of democracy.”

Few anticipated that Eretz HaKodesh (EHK), a brand-new Haredi American slate, would comprise the third largest American delegation when the elections were over. But that outcome put a spotlight on the intolerance of the leaders of the aforementioned liberal movements. Their claims during the Congress that everyone should be welcomed into the coalition belie their own actions during and after the US elections.

The rules of the AZM election are designed to ensure that all slates operate fair, appropriate and positive campaigns. Instead, both Mercaz USA and ARZA filed complaints with the AZM Tribunal – not to address actual violations of the rules, but in an effort to ensure that Haredi representation be reduced or entirely eliminated.

I work with Rabbi Pesach Lerner, Chairman of Eretz HaKodesh (EHK), at the Coalition for Jewish Values, and was an alternate delegate on his slate — so he asked me to help defend Eretz HaKodesh before the Tribunal of the American Zionist Movement. This placed me in the ring opposite both slates as they attempted to upend the election results and exclude this new Haredi slate from the Congress..

Even while the campaign was underway, ARZA complained that EHK violated rules prohibiting “demeaning or denigrating” other slates for simply pointing out that ARZA’s progressive agenda conflicts with what we have long understood to be Torah values. Coming from a slate whose own website alleged “fundamentalist rigidity” of “the coercive and autocratic authority of the ultra-Orthodox establishment,” ARZA’s complaint about a reference to “extreme left-wing Reform clergy” reflected both a transparent double standard and an attempt to muzzle the EHK campaign. But they were just getting started.

After the votes were counted, Mercaz USA asserted that the entire Eretz HaKodesh slate should be retroactively annulled, and its votes discarded. Its pretense was that Eretz HaKodesh failed to support the World Zionist Organization’s “Jerusalem Program,” and that EHK’s affirmation of support in May of 2019 was “false and knowingly deceptive.” Prayers for return to Zion found in the prayer book, Mercaz further averred, “cannot be squared” with “the” definition of Zionism — although the American Zionist Movement demands a “unique Zionist philosophy” from every new slate, and unanimously accepted EHK’s definition at that time.

Though claiming to represent a Jewish religious movement, Mercaz USA explicitly discounted the Jewish religion as a valid reason to support Israel. And if this were not embarrassing enough, the Haredi community represented by Eretz HaKodesh, as Rabbi Lerner documented in a recent column, is vastly more dedicated to the tenets of the Jerusalem Program than are the Conservative congregants represented by Mercaz USA. It was obvious that Mercaz USA’s real issue was not EHK’s aged attestation from nearly a year prior, but EHK’s surprising success.

Meanwhile, Mercaz USA’s ally ARZA promoted its own “interpretation” of the Jerusalem Program during the election, while Hatikvah’s chair openly told prospective voters that the requirement to affirm the Program was “simply acknowledging that it is the platform of the WZO” and a precondition for voting, rather than something that they were obligated to support. The double standard was clearly still at work.

It didn’t stop there. Days after Mercaz received a powerful 38-page response from Eretz HaKodesh, demonstrating that its malevolent litigation was destined to fail, ARZA returned like a tag-team wrestling partner. Though by then the election was several months in the rearview mirror, ARZA complained that EHK had “continued” to violate the election rules following its earlier complaint. Riddled with obvious falsehoods and misrepresentations, such as stating that “nothing was removed” when ARZA clearly knew otherwise, ARZA’s new complaint was based upon Eretz Hakodesh’s purported “message,” namely “that only their understanding of Judaism, ritual and observance is authentic and valid and that any other is completely invalid.“

ARZA made this claim repeatedly in its new complaint and counter-rebuttal — and it was fabricated from whole cloth. EHK never articulated any such “message.” Yet it is obvious whence ARZA derived this false charge: the Talmud and every work of Jewish law is based upon the idea that there is a valid way to observe Judaism, involving rules that Reform proudly discards.

Both liberal slates, in other words, attempted to disqualify Eretz HaKodesh simply because Haredi Jews retain Haredi Jewish beliefs. This, from movements that preach “tolerance” and “pluralism.”

This pattern of bias did not end when the Congress began, held in a virtual environment. Though over seventy resolutions and amendments were submitted, only a small fraction were deemed worthy of consideration in the single 90-minute slot allotted for committee meetings. One of these was an openly tendentious resolution designed to prevent Eretz HaKodesh or any other traditional slate from speaking about religious differences and their impact upon WZO’s educational priorities — while permitting left-wing slates to continue to slander the Chief Rabbinate and other observant communities not tied to a slate at the Congress.

And then, after a coalition was formed that did not include them, the left erupted. The very slates that tried to disenfranchise EHK and the Haredi community entirely now demanded their “fair share,” regardless of the expressed will of the electorate. They called the results “unacceptable” and claimed that a coalition including Eretz HaKodesh — which had less than five percent of the delegates — was a Haredi-engineered “hostile takeover.”

In a letter to Prime Minister Netanyahu, 1600 rabbis and members of Reform congregations called the agreement “extreme” and said it would leave their Reform congregants, over 98% of whom did not vote in the election, “unrepresented” and “marginalized.” The Conservative movement simply threatened to leave the Congress.

There is a chasm dividing the narrative that liberal leaders delivered to the media from their actual record. It seems they know that most adherents of these movements do not share in the animus towards other Jewish communities of their leadership.

It is the Haredim, whose strong support of Israel is unsurpassed, yet who were dismissed as irrelevant at previous sessions, that will now receive their fair share. Whether left-wing leaders will end their unfortunate campaign of incitement against the Haredi community and Eretz HaKodesh remains to be seen.

Rabbi Yaakov Menken is the Managing Director of the Coalition for Jewish Values. Opinions are his own.

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