Originally published January 22, 2020
Everyone already knows that the 2020 elections are coming up. The House, the Senate, and the Oval Office are up for grabs, but American Jews don’t have to wait until November to make their voices heard. The World Zionist Congress will be meeting later in 2020, and 152 delegates will represent American Jewry. How those delegates decide to spend nearly $1 billion for Jewish causes depends on how American Jews vote between now and March 11.
The World Zionist Congress (WZC) first convened in 1897, under the leadership of Theodor Herzl, to gather world Jewry together for the goal of creating a Jewish State. And 123 years later, while the goals have changed, the importance of the Congress has not. There is over a billion dollars in funding that is allocated by the World Zionist Congress, which is directed towards the operating costs of the World Zionist Organization (WZO), The Jewish National Fund (JNF), and the Jewish Agency for Israel.
These organizations have been, and will continue to be, vital towards the building of the State of Israel. These organizations buy land, develop towns, conserve forests and reservoirs, and fund trips for Jews around the world to come to Israel. Their funding, and how they use those funds, will be in jeopardy should left-wing slates gain control of the World Zionist Congress.
There are 14 slates in this year’s elections, up from 11 in 2015. These slates are essentially political parties, each with its own policies and ideologies. Much like the Israeli Knesset, many of these parties have similar policy priorities, but disagree on certain issues. Unlike the American two-party system, a small difference could mean a whole new party that is part of a coalition.
The slates that American Jews are voting for are not simply left versus right politically, but religiously as well. So while two slates may be considered on the political right, they may have opposing religious views, and vice versa. That being said, with 14 slates to choose from, it is difficult to have a comprehensive view on all of them. Every voter who is looking to be fully informed should take the time to read up on the various slates, their policy proposals, and the organizations with which they affiliate. However, there are a few that deserve to be highlighted.
The Association of Reform Zionists of America, or ARZA, “is the Zionist arm and voice of the Reform Movement and an affiliate of the Union for Reform Judaism, serving 1.5 million Reform Jews in North America,” as per their website. After the 2015 election, they won 56 of 145 seats in the American delegation, double the next highest slate.
ARZA pushes Reform Judaism’s religious ideology, such as an “egalitarian” space at the Kosel, and non-Orthodox standards for religious services like conversions and weddings. They believe in a two-state solution as “essential for the security and stability of both Israelis and Palestinians. Most of their affiliations are Reform and Reconstructionist organizations.
Mercaz is Conservative Judaism’s slate, and they won 25 seats in the 2015 election. According to their website, their mission “is to support religious pluralism in Israel and strengthen the connection between Israel and the Diaspora. We are the advocates and the force that guarantees funding for religious streams that is so crucial to our Movement’s growth in Israel and around the world.” Like the Reform Slate, their movement is more focused on the religious life within Israel and how to reflect conservative religious ideology within the rabbinate of the State. Mercaz is affiliated with religious Conservative organizations.
The Orthodox Israel Coalition
The Orthodox Israel Coalition (OIC) is “a broad-based coalition of the major Religious Zionist and Modern Orthodox organizations that has represented Orthodox Jewry in the World Zionist Congress for over 100 years. Dedicated to the timeless values of the Torah and the centrality of the Land and the State of Israel in Jewish life, we serve as the only Orthodox coalition with operations and programs in Israel and throughout the world.” In 2015, the Religious Zionist slate won 24 seats in the delegation. Among the affiliated organizations are the Orthodox Union, AMIT, Yeshiva University, Touro College, Rabbinical Council of America, National Council of Young Israel, Torah MiTzion, Bnei Akiva, and more.
Hatikvah is a left-wing political slate that refers to Israel’s existence in Judea and Samaria as “occupation” and claims to “fiercely oppose the current policy of permanent occupation and annexation. It is unjust and will end Israel’s democracy. The occupation is sustained by ongoing policies of repression that only serve to exacerbate conflict and require daily violence to maintain it.” They are affiliated with left-wing organizations such as J Street, T’ruah, Americans for Peace Now, and others. They had eight delegates in the 2015 Congress
Zionist Organization of America
The Zionist Organization of America (ZOA) is a politically right-wing slate that emphasizes security, building up Judea and Samaria, and consistently fights against the left-wing’s “Israel is racist” agenda. They fight against BDS on college campuses as well as in legislatures. They are affiliated with Dov Hikind’s group, Americans Against Anti-Semitism, and had seven delegates in the 2015 Congress.
These are only a few of the 14 slates that American Jews will vote on over the coming weeks, and they will decide how millions of dollars will be allocated based on the turnout. The 2015 election had approximately 60,000 votes, but the American Jewish population tops five million. If any movement consolidates its voting base, they can have outsized representation in the World Zionist Congress.
All voters need to fulfill the following criteria: Be 18 years of age or above (as of June 30, 2020), be a permanent resident of the United States, be Jewish, have not voted and will not vote in the March 2, 2020 Knesset election, and affirm your commitment to the Jerusalem Program. The Jerusalem Program is the official platform of the WZO and commits to a historic bond between the Jewish people and the Land of Israel, with Jerusalem as its capital. When voting, there is a $7.50 fee to cover expenses.
For every Jew in the United States who wonders what he or she can do to affect change in the State of Israel, this is the time to act. Vote; get your friends, family, neighbors, and co-workers to vote. The direction of Israeli, American, and Worldwide Jewry is at stake.
Disclaimer: The opinions stated in this article are those of the author and do not reflect any organization or slate in the World Zionist Congress
Moshe Hill is a political analyst who has written for The Daily Wire, the Queens Jewish Link, The Jewish Link of New Jersey and JNS.org. He is regularly featured on ‘The Josh M Show’ podcast. Subscribe to www.aHillwithaview.com for more content from Moshe Hill. Like him on Facebook at facebook.com/ahillwithaview and follow him on Twitter @TheMoHill.