Rabbi Pesach Lerner
Rabbi Pesach LernerArutz Sheva

As there have been conflicting reports as to what happened at this year's extraordinary World Zionist Congress, I would like to share what I saw.

I was what they classify as a young delegate to this year's Congress, from the Eretz Hakodesh party, and flew to Israel specifically for the Congress.

I was a member of the committee debating the Supreme Court resolution submitted by the left. They wanted to let the government know that the current debate on reforming the court was risking the future of the Diaspora/Israel relationship. Obviously, we disagree. We also discussed a resolution for funding Jewish communities. However, while we supported this resolution, the left pushed to amend the resolution to state support for developing programming for "all streams of Judaism." Such vague language can easily be twisted to mean any kind of denomination, even the most farfetched. Therefore, we will now be voting against the resolution.

In committee, the Mizrachi leadership stood up numerous times to argue for changes to wording. Some of their requested changes were minute, in my opinion, and ultimately might not have changed the end result. The changes also made the resolutions less inclusive in some cases, and yet, they stood for what was right. And we members of Eretz Hakodesh applauded their efforts, which were mostly successful.

Late Thursday afternoon we were all sitting in our seats, at the plenary waiting for the various presentations to conclude and for voting on the many resolutions to begin. A member of Mizrachi approached me, requesting I get our faction to sign a petition to vote name by name. Unlike a raised hand, or computer connected clicker voting, this method would take hours, and ultimately cause the vote to be cancelled.

They needed 60 signatures, our delegation gave them 23.

Mizrachi submitted the petition, and as many of us already have shared with the public, pandemonium ensued. The left (inclusive and democratic until they're not) erupted in shouts of "Busha, Busha!" The Presidium went to debate the issue, and we were told to wait.

Eretz Hakodesh was founded to represent the haredi members of the Diaspora. My father wrote articles years ago, explaining why as a Young Israelite he was vehemently against the term "Modern Orthodox." His entire life he was simply "frum", there was never a need to label it. (The label "Modern Orthodox" has been hijacked by the Open Orthodox anyway, so that it is probably more accurate today to use the term Religious Zionists to describe Mizrachi as well as those frum Diaspora Jews who once called themselves Modern Orthodox - a term Rabbi Soloveitchik also did not use either, ed.)That said, there has always been a difference between the "Yeshiva" community and the more "modern", but not in commitment to Torah.

The writer of the a Arutz 7 Op-ed stated "Up until only a few years ago, the Haredi parties rejected the Zionist Movement and refused to participate in the Congress." That is true, but things have changed. I personally never rejected Zionism, I simply define my Zionism based on haredi Torah views, (while Religious Zionists define their Zionism according to rabbis such as Rabbi Avraham HaCohen Kook, ed.).

Unfortunately this claim is one that has been brought forth by the Reform in their fight to prevent our faction from running for the congress. Eretz Hakodesh is not Degel Hatorah's faction. We are definitely aligned in our views, but we do not represent them. We represen the Diaspora's haredi Torah community.

Our members are all unabashedly Zionistic, but we have a different understanding of what that means. We all Love Eretz Yisrael, we pray for her daily, asking for G-d to return us to Zion. We invest in Israel, we visit, our children study there. The biggest Yeshivas are filled with students from our communities.

Mizrachi saw itself as the representative of all Orthodox Jews until now is, a claim I do not accept.. While we are aligned, that claim is as inaccurate as the Reform claim that they represent the entire diaspora. Nobody represented us, we were simply left out of the conversation because we were not considered Zionist..

Until now.

Now, Eretz Hakodesh has given us a voice. Now my friends learning in haredi Yeshivas and Kollels have a voice. There is a reason we received 2nd highest number of seats of any religious or right wing party in the AZM elections (without any organizational backing!).

Members of our growing community understood that we now have an obligation to have representation.

At the Presidium's meeting to respond to them demanding a roll call vote for each resolution, as can be expected there was quite a scene. Words were exchanged, and it got heated. Rabbi Lerner (leader of EHK faction) told our friends in Mizrachi, Shas and Likud to hold strong. Yes, this was Mizrachi's petition, but we were all a coalition standing for our values. The original intent didn't matter. When told we will lose the votes anyway, he responded "I cannot let the resolutions be voted on. that in itself is a chillul Hashem." Until that evening we never imagined the right wing coalition had that power. Thanks to Mizrachi, we now actually had a chance to stop the tremendous Busha from happening.

As we waited outside for news, we received a WhatsApp from Rabbi Lerner, stating that it looks like the roll call petition will be withdrawn "but we are staying strong."

The Op-ed author stated that "Mizrachi withdrew its petition since its objective had been achieved." However, as he correctly stated, we are a coalition aligned with a common goal. The other coalition members remained united and were willing to stay all night if need be. Mizrachi wanted their resolution added, and once they got what they wanted, they felt there was no need to continue. That, in my opinion, is not standing firm on values.

From the start, our marching orders were clear. Prior to the Congress, Rabbi Lerner told us that while we may end up losing every resolution vote, our one goal is fighting for the Kedusha of the land, and for the honor of G-d and His Torah. The resolutions, mostly suggested by the Reform and liberal left, were anti Torah, against traditional family values, pro reform conversion, and anti government. If passed, these resolutions could be harmful to Israeli society, and create a PR nightmare for the Orthodox community. Even if we are consistently the minority, our values are Torah, and Hashem. That is all.

When we received the message that the petition is being withdrawn, against the wishes of our other coalition members, I ran down the hall to their meeting. Once again, as the original writer states "for the sake of historic integrity and indeed the truth, it is critical that one knows the facts."

Here are the facts.

He writes that "no faction was asked to nor collected signatures after the directorate's decision." This is inaccurate. Upon reaching the door to their meeting, I saw Rabbi Lerner briefly walk out. I asked Rabbi Lerner, "If all it took was a petition of sixty signatures to demand a named vote, that means we can submit one too, and demand the same thing ourselves." He agreed.

Knowing from his texts that the petition was being withdrawn, and there would be votes the next day, I sprang into action. It was clear the meeting was about to end. I grabbed some paper, wrote a new petition in the name of Eretz Hakodesh, and ran throughout the halls to gather signatures.

When asked initially to sign into their petition, we immediately agreed. If it's for a coalition partner, we sign. Yet, when I asked members of Mizrachi to sign our petition, they told me straight out, "if our leadership withdrew their petition, we won't sign yours."

I spoke to Shas, told them what was happening, and asked for their support. Without a second's hesitation, every member of Shas signed. Naturally, so did every member of EHK. I then went to a French member of Likud who had been in my committee the previous day. He signed, and his friends signed too. Then, together with Yanky Deri from Shas, I explained to the rest of the members from Likud what was going on. The Presidium was going to agree to a vote the next day, because Mizrachi withdrew its petition. Like Shas, every member of Likud still in the room, signed without question. When values are aligned, and you are standing firm for those values, you don't back down.

Within fifteen minutes, I had over 80 signatures. We knew the Presidium already made a decision, but our goal was to give the petition to Rabbi Lerner before the meeting adjourned, so that he could submit it, and again, demand a name vote for Friday. As he attested to in an EHK delegate WhatsApp message later on, "a person from the left asked me publicly, Rabbi Lerner, will you guarantee us you will not submit a new petition in the morning, once the voting starts. Someone screamed, his people are already signing the new petition; I saw them outside! I replied," I make no guarantees."

Based on this veiled threat, the Presidium's ultimate decision was to skip the votes on Friday, knowing we would submit this new petition for a lengthy roll call vote. Thanks to Eretz Hakodesh, Likud, Shas and friends, we stopped the votes at the congress. For the first time in history.

That is why we will now be voting online.

I respect Mizrachi's intentions. They are often aligned with us, and we as the right wing, must remain united. Ultimately we are all on the same side. We all care deeply about Eretz Yisrael, and our brothers and sisters.

It is important as well that all move forward to keep facts as facts. To work towards a common goal, and to remember that unity among our coalition trumps unity with those who hate us. We never need to appease the left, or refuse to support our coalition's efforts because of some guarantees made by them.

Eretz Hakodesh was proud to stand with Shas, Likud and ZOA, to fight for Torah values. Mizrachi may not have joined our petition, but they, too, stand for Torah values.

It is my hope that next time around, all of our partners will join.

Rabbi Avrohom Mostofsky lives with his family in NYC. He studied in Jerusalem where he received Smicha at the age of 22. He is a is a delegate for Eretz Hakodesh at the World Zionist Congress.