While Americans were largely on the sidelines in Israel’s latest election, there is one Israeli election that American Jews can participate in and it’s a really important one. It’s the election for the World Zionist Congress (WZC) and the outcome will likely have a hand in determining the course of Israel’s future. Below is a primer on the upcoming election.
What is the World Zionist Congress?
The World Zionist Congress is the governing body of the World Zionist Organization, which was founded during the First Zionist Congress in 1897. Theodor Herzl was the first president of the organization. What’s the World Zionist Organization? Here’s where it gets slightly complicated: it isn’t one organization, but several organizations and groups across different strands of Zionism and Judaism that oversees millions of dollars in funding for Aliyah, infrastructure and educational programming. The WZO also includes parts of The Jewish Agency and the Jewish National Fund. Every five years Jews all over the world vote for their parties of choice, and like the working of the Knesset, the parties with the most seats have the most power.
How does voting work?
America gets 145 seats out of a possible 500. Israel receives 190 and the rest of the world receives 190. There are eleven parties running, some with similar agendas and some drastically different. The Green Israel party stresses peace and environmental justice along with animal rights. Hatikva, a left-wing party whose slate includes members of J-Street and Americans for Peace Now, calls for a freeze in the Yishuvim and encourages a two-state solution. The Orthodox Union believes that the Religious Zionist slate is in the best interest for the Orthodox Jewish community both in America and abroad.
A clear explanation of the upcoming election is from The Forward’s columnist J.J. Goldberg who wrote about it in January. You may not agree with his politics or his thoughts, but he posts the most cogent explanation of what the election is and why it matters.
What’s at stake?
Money. Lots of money. The WZO decides where millions of dollars in funding is spent. The WZO partially controls The Jewish Agency, the largest Jewish non-profit in the world, and The Jewish National Fund, which owns 13% of the total land in Israel.
Why should I vote?
Do you care about Israel’s future? Money will be directed to whichever causes are important to the parties in power. If Hatikva wins a majority of seats you can expect funding for Yishuvim to be cut and funding for two-state initiatives to be increased. If Green Israel wins a significant amount of seats, expect money to be directed towards animal rights organizations in Israel.
Why should I Vote Torah?
Beneath the catchy slogan is the party of the Religious Zionists. The slate includes both Torah luminaries and dedicated community activists. Delegates include Rabbi Hershel Schachter, Allen Fagin, Rabbi Yosef Blau, Rabbi Steven Weil and Deborah Moed, among many other candidates. Each delegate believes that the Torah is the guiding light for the State of Israel and the funding decisions of the WZO will reflect that. Money will be directed to programs like Masa, which help support religious Jewish education in Israel for gap-year programs like yeshivas and seminaries. Funds will be directed to infrastructure and security measures in the communities of Gush Etzion and Jerusalem and for summer camps in Israel. A Religious Zionist victory will also ensure funding for OU Israel, National Council of Young Israel and other religious Zionist youth movements. More funding also means more educational and communal programming that is in accordance with the beliefs of Torah-observant Jewry. Additionally, more seats in the WZO means more Orthodox board members of organizations like The Jewish Agency, Keren HaYesod and The Jewish National Fund. Each vote you cast is a vote to ensure that Torah continues to be the foundation of the Jewish Homeland.
What happens if I don’t vote?
So far, only 24,000 votes have been cast in total, which means that the 145 seats are largely up for grabs. What happens if you don’t vote? Simply put: someone else will and the Orthodox Jewish community will lose.
How do I vote?
Go here. There is a $10 registration fee, but a nominal one considering what is at stake.
The words of this author reflect his/her own opinions and do not necessarily represent the official position of the Orthodox Union.