Gael Grunewald
Gael GrunewaldPhot: INN

Since the very first Zionist Congress over 120 years ago, the Mizrachi movement has played a central part in the proceedings. Over the course of that entire time, Mizrachi has never shied away from promoting the core values of Torah VeAvoda (combining Torah ideals with worldly endeavors), passionate Zionism and halakha (Jewish Law), and an unabashed love of the Jewish people and the Land of Israel.

Out of a sense of genuine partnership with the values of modern Zionism, most fundamentally the return of the Jewish people to our ancient homeland, the Mizrachi Movement was there to 'make the desert bloom', while its adherents fought and died to build and protect our homeland and act for the sake of the Torah world in Eretz Yisrael.

Over the last 120 years until the 2023 Congress which recently convened, the Mizrachi Movement has represented the strong and clear voice of Orthodox Zionism.

Throughout, Mizrachi has stood alone in presenting the Orthodox position concerning all the core issues central to the Jewish nation and State of Israel. Mizrachi has fought for its values and served as the relevant Orthodox alternative to the Reform and Conservative streams and progressive parties within the Congress. Up until only a few years ago, the haredi parties rejected the Zionist Movement and refused to participate in the Congress. Their participation in this year's Zionist Congress was welcomed and is testament to the long journey undergone by both haredi society and the Zionist Movement.

In late April 2023, an extraordinary Zionist Congress met in Jerusalem. Hundreds of representatives from all over the world arrived to discuss and debate the burning topics with which the Jewish people in Israel and in the Diaspora are currently engaged.

As part of the proceedings, the Mizrachi Movement submitted a decision proposal concerning the Law of Return with the expressed goal of presenting a draft that would be accepted by all factions within the Congress.

As is the Mizrachi approach – to connect and unite – the proposal was a statement that even when confronting sensitive, and potentially divisive social issues like the "Grandchild Clause" in the Law of Return, decisions can and should be made with a broad consensus and the participation of all parties .

For technical reasons, the proposal was not processed in the congress system. But it was discussed by the members of the World Zionist Organization Executive as a preamble to what was expected to be a debate in the actual congress. However, already at this stage, representatives from the left sabotaged Mizrachi's plans and the decision proposal was scrapped from the agenda.

The Mizrachi Movement did not back down and continued to work for the proposal to be accepted into the Congress. The leftist parties all joined forces to block any suggestion for dialogue on the issue and repeatedly had it struck from the agenda. Regarding this evasive approach in particular, it is important to note that such “procedural tactics” that have trickled into the Zionist Congress from the Knesset do not bode well for the freedom of speech that had so characterized the Zionist Congress to date.

With claims that "times are complex" and "it's a danger to democracy," the leftist coalition in the Congress has allowed themselves to send the branch upon which we’re all perched shattering to the ground. Their actions have allowed a situation to develop which will only lead to further divisiveness and ignores the basic Jewish and Zionist values that despite a diversity of opinions, approaches and beliefs we are one mosaic that must learn to remain inclusive.

When the Mizrachi delegates saw that the left coalition was insistent in its refusal and leaning on technical procedures to avoid genuine discussion about an ethical issue, Mizrachi decided to respond in kind. Within minutes, Mizrachi activists had signed up 60 delegates on to a petition that all voting would be by calling out individual names. Among the signatories were Mizrachi representatives and delegates from the right-wing parties – Likud, Shas and the Eretz HaKodesh organization. This proposal effectively led to the dispersion of the Congress without a vote.

Once Mizrachi had submitted the required number of signatures in such a short time, the Congress directorate had no choice but to deliberate on the various options now on the floor. Mizrachi's request was to allow for a discussion about the decision proposal the left had dismissed time and again. After a stormy discussion in the directorate, it was decided to allow Mizrachi to submit the proposal for voting and to allow all voting to take place online. Hence Mizrachi withdrew its petition since its objective had been achieved.

While all such political developments always involve various people and parties taking credit, for the sake of historic integrity and indeed the truth, it is critical that one knows the facts.

At no point did the Mizrachi Movement capitulate or forgo its principles. It was Mizrachi that led the fight from start to finish while standing firm on its values and being respectful to its partners. No faction was asked to nor collected signatures after the directorate's decision. We appreciate and thank the right-wing delegations that joined us and supported us throughout.

I will end by saying that our aim as the right-wing bloc – and certainly among the Orthodox factions – is to act together for the sake of strengthening Jewish identity, disseminating Zionist values and deepening connections to Israel. Within the political system, people must adjust to the art of peacemaking and coalition-building while upholding the ability to preserve ones ideological backbone without resorting to fanaticism. To understand that I can walk confidently in my path without stepping on or crushing others.

If we are wise enough to join forces in this mission, we will succeed in overcoming one of the greatest challenges the Jewish people faces every day all over the globe: what do we do to ensure more Judaism, more Zionism and more Jews?

Gael Grunewald is Chairperson of the Mizrachi faction in the National Institutions, Deputy Chairperson of the World Zionist Organization, and Director of the Education Department.