Last December in this space, we urged readers to vote in the elections of the World Zionist Congress, the once-every-five-year meeting that chooses the leadership of the World Zionist Organization and other veteran institutions that connect Israel with the Diaspora and, between them, boast an annual budget in excess of $1 billion.
The World Zionist Congress took place last week — mostly virtually. And while the governance and operational system of the organization is too technical, convoluted and arcane for many of us to understand, two things became clear: Every vote counts — and so do coalitions.
In the American Zionist elections last winter, which produced one-third of the delegates to the Congress, right-wing and Orthodox Zionist groups (Zionist Organization of America, Orthodox Israel Coalition and Eretz Hakodesh) won a slight majority of the American delegation. Together with the right-wing and Orthodox majority of the Israeli delegation (another third of the entire Congress), they agreed to shut out the liberal secular and non-Orthodox Zionist groups (ARZA, Mercaz, Hatikvah and others) from providing any input into who should lead and who should disburse the money that is spent in Israel and the Diaspora.
That move was met with considerable pushback, since that’s not how it has historically worked at the Congress. Rather, there is a cherished history of consensus, called a “wall to wall agreement,” that is touted by members, assuring that every group involved in the Congress has its say. That consensus was only reached after liberal Zionists convinced several groups that usually abstain from partisan wrangling (including Hadassah, Naamat, Maccabi, B’nai B’rith International, Women’s International Zionist Organization and Emunah) to join them in a coalition of opposition to what they deemed a “coup” by the right-wing and Orthodox Zionist groups. And even in compromise, the anger was apparent: “They wanted to get rid of the Reform and Conservative and Reconstructionist voices, which in America are a significant portion of the Jewish population,” said delegate Sheila Katz of the liberal Hatikvah slate. “And it would be deeply problematic to the relationship between the United States and Israel to not validate those segments of Judaism as worthy of being in the World Zionist Congress.”
While we are pleased that a compromise was reached, and hope that the agreement holds, we can’t help but observe several obvious lessons. First, although compromise is often good, it is not an opening strategy. An elected majority has power. With single-mindedness, that majority can wield its power to the detriment of the minority. Second, when given the opportunity to vote, take it. Those within the World Zionist Congress who organized their members to vote were successful. Those who didn’t were left to scramble. And third, while we are unquestionably a very diverse world Jewish population, we do best when we work together for the common interests we all share.
We are our brothers’ keepers. And we need to keep all members of our family together. JN