Uncle Herzl Wants YOU!


In perhaps the most sweeping democratic exercise in the entire Jewish world, Zionist Congress elections will be held in thirty nations across six continents.

While the mechanisms of the election may vary from country to country here in the United States access to participation is easy and transparent. The American Zionist Movement, which is the American arm of the World Zionist Organization and a federation of all the Zionist organizations in the United States, conducts the elections here. Any Jew who i 18 or older who lives in the United States and affirms the Jerusalem Program may vote. There is an on-line platform; voters have to pay a small fee that is used to cover the election costs.

Affiliated organizations submit slates of candidates that represent the diverse perspectives and priorities from across the broad spectrum of views within the American Jewish community Both of the writers of this article are very proud to have been selected as delegates to multiple  past World Zionist Congress elections and running again in this election on Hatikvah’s slate.

The World Zionist Congress is often called the Parliament of the Jewish People. It is made up of 500 delegates. Of those seats, 152 are allocated to the American delegation. That makes up 29 percent of the total. The Israeli delegation constitutes 38%, and the remaining 33% is spread among the other Jewish communities of the Diaspora.  The U.S delegation will be divided across the 15 participating slates according to the proportion of votes each list receives.

The on-line site through which the election in the United States is held and on which information is posted about each list and the election process is www.azm.org/elections. Voting began January 21 and will run through March 11. The 38th World Zionist Congress will meet in Jerusalem from October 20 through October 23, 2020.

You might feel like that son on Passover says “What does all this have to do with me?” Give us a moment and let us try to explain.

The first Zionist Congress was held in Basel Switzerland in August 1897 under the leadership of Theodore Herzl. Representatives from Jewish communities around the world gathered to discuss and examine options for world Jewry. It’s analysis of the Jewish condition in the face of perpetual anti-Semitism, discrimination, assimilation and extensive poverty experience by many Jewish communities demanded an action program for the continuity of the Jewish people. The then radical solution posed by Zionism was the re-establishment of a Jewish state in their historical homeland.

So was born, modern political Zionism and the World Zionist Organization (WZO).

Three days after the close of the Congress, Herzl wrote in his diary “At Basel I founded the Jewish State. If I said this aloud today, l would be greeted by universal laughter. In five years perhaps, and certainly in fifty years, everyone will perceive it.” In November 1947, the United Nations approved a partition of the British Mandate and the creation of a Jewish State in the historical homeland of the Jewish People. Herzl was off by 3 months.

It was an exciting time of big dreams turning into a new reality, a vision of a world where Jews lived as free men in their own land.

The World Zionist Congress went on to create The Jewish National Fund (JNF), and the Keren Hayesod-United Israel Appeal (UIA). Those organizations,, along with the Jewish Agency for Israel (JAFI), pre-date the creation of the State of Israel and are by their own definitions national institutions of the Jewish people. They are not just Israeli institutions nor are they responsible for or answer only to Israelis. Therefore, the worldwide Jewish community is tasked with determining their governing bodies.

These elections, which in recent years are held every five years, determine the leadership, policies, and some would say most importantly the budget priorities of these institutions.  But what are these organizations? What are they doing today? Why does any of this matter?  While tens of thousands of American Jews have participated in Zionist Congress elections in the past, hundreds of thousands of American Jews remain unfamiliar with the Congress and the World Zionist Organization which ultimately is governed by it. These institutions have a long and rich history and while their roles have changed, they still matter today both in Israel and in the Diaspora.

Bereisheet – In the Beginning
The World Zionist Organization (WZO) at its inception created and provided the framework for the development of political institutions which would negotiate with foreign powers about establishing a Jewish homeland in what would become Israel. At the same time, the WZO represented and governed those Jews living in pre-state Palestine. At the Fifth Zionist Congress, the Jewish National Fund was established. Tasked with buying land from local residents and from the offices of the Ottoman Empire, it raised funds from Jews around the world to do so. In 1929, the 16th Zionist Congress established a Jewish Agency for Palestine as a body responsible for building a Jewish home.  By 1947, it was unified with the Zionist Organization and on May 14, 1948, the Jewish Agency became the provisional government of Israel.

After the State of Israel was established, the Jewish Agency relinquished most of its administrative roles to the government but retained responsibilities for immigration, land settlement, youth work, and relations with world Jewry. Through the Jewish Agency, hundreds of thousands of immigrants from Europe and around the world were settled and absorbed.  The Agency created a number of companies to conduct its immigration, settlement, and cultural work, including El Al.

And today.
Over time, the Zionist Organization, the Jewish Agency and the Jewish National Fund changed. They morphed to answer the needs of a growing country and the world Jewish community. The new programs reflected the most prevalent trends in both Israel and around the world. Today the combined budget of these organizations is over one billion dollars a year. Much of how this money is allocated is determined at the World Zionist Congress. Since the congress is held only once every 5 years, the people YOU ELECT as delegates will help to determine how 5 billion dollars will be spent, in Israel and for Jews around the world.

At the Congress, presentations and speeches are made at plenary sessions, committees are organized to prepare resolutions, and negotiations are conducted to determine WZO officers and department heads for the coming years. Much depends on the outcome of elections and the relative weights of organizational coalitions representing different groups and ideologies.

By the end of the Congress, resolutions will have been approved, a new leadership selected, and priorities established for the work of the World Zionist Organization in coming years.

The various factions also will have determined their representatives to the Zionist General Council, which meets annually between Congresses to supervise policy. They will also have selected the Zionist representation to the Jewish Agency; all these outcomes will have been shaped by the World Zionist Congress election results.

The Zionist representatives to the Jewish Agency shape the determination of leadership, budget priorities, and policies of that organization in critical ways. Having the right people at the table will help determine if your vision of Israel is going to be funded for the next 5 years.

The candidates who are running for the 152 seats allocated to the American Jewish community each has a specific platform and speaks to a different voter with a different vision of Israel’s future. The American Zionist Movement, which organizes them, is a long-standing wall-to-wall coalition of American Zionist organizations. As the saying goes: Two Jews, three opinions. Even more so with Zionism, itself an ideological movement.

You are charged with casting a ballot for one of these slates, each reflecting a particular view, a hyphenated Zionism, religious, progressive, revisionist, ethnic, or general. The slates run the political gamut from the far right “Greater Land of Israel” The Zionist of America (ZOA) coalition whose platform is fighting against anti-Semitism while fighting for every inch of land, to the progressive Hatikvah coalition slate on which we are both running. There are slates representing all the religious streams- Orthodox, Conservative, Reform and Reconstructionist – and each of those platforms represent their members needs and desires. To round out the field there is a salad bar of many others offering a place for everyone.

The American delegation will be divided according to the percentage of votes each slate gets. You can see the complete list of slates and their platforms at www.azm.org/elections .

And now a message from our sponsorIn Support of Progressive Zionism
Political Zionism was founded on a critique of Diaspora Jewish existence and a proposed solution which was to return to the Jewish historical homeland and build a State.  But what sort of State? This question animated Zionist thought and political development during the early days of settlement and continued after Israel’s independence.  The Six Day War enlarged these debates and divisions. The IDF’s great victory repelling the armies of Arab states that were arrayed against them, returned a portion of the Jewish historical homeland to Israel’s control—but with that land came a large resident non-Jewish population.  The unintended consequences of that crucial victory delivered political, social, security, and moral issues whose solutions divide Israel and those who love her.

The wide array of slates vying for votes in the coming World Zionist Congress election reflect disparate views about the direction Israel as a state and as a nation should take with respect to its political and social development, and what policies Israel and the Zionist Movement should take with respect to the future of the West Bank. It will be those people at the table, people you have an opportunity to choose, who can decide to dedicate shekels towards providing affordable housing or to build a fence around one more settlement.

It will be those people who can choose to allocate dollars for asylum seekers, supporting human rights, increasing initiatives between Israelis and Palestinians.

We, as candidates on the Hatikvah slate, support a progressive Zionist approach to these questions, as does the majority of the American Jewish community.

The Hatikvah Slate was compiled with the express desire to be inclusive. Women make up over half the Hatikvah slate, and the ticket includes a number of prominent Jews of color as well as members of the LBGTQ community. You can review the entire Hatikvah slate here

First and foremost, we believe the Jewish State must remain both a Jewish and a democratic state.  This does not simply mean rule by the majority after open elections.  It means we must preserve the rights of a free press and free speech. It means maintaining independent judiciary. It means ensuring equal rights for all of Israel’s citizens regardless of religious expression, gender, race, ethnicity, or sexual orientation.

The foundation for this vision was set forth at the hour of Israel’s creation within its Declaration of Independence:
     “The State of Israel will be open for Jewish immigration and for the Ingathering of the      Exiles; it will foster the development of the country for the benefit of all its inhabitants; it will be based on freedom, justice and peace as envisaged by the prophets of Israel; it will ensure complete equality of social and political rights to all its inhabitants irrespective of religion, race or sex;it will guarantee freedom of religion, conscience, language, education and culture; it will safeguard the Holy Places of all religions; and it will be faithful to the principles of the Charter of the United Nations.”

The Hatikvah platform is will work to guarantee that the Jewish State will have a Jewish character because of its Jewish majority but it should respect its non-Jewish citizens.

  • We stand with Israelis opposed to the so-called Nation-state law because it can be used to introduce legal discrimination against non-Jewish citizens.
  • We stand with Israelis opposed to enforced gender segregation and so-called “modesty patrols” and other harassment of women.
  • We stand with Israelis seeking an end to gender discrimination and support women’s full participation in public events, both military and civilian.
  • We stand with Israelis opposed to racial discrimination including discrimination against Jews of color.
  • We stand with Israelis fighting discrimination based on sexual orientation.
  • We believe that being a free People in our Land requires all this.
  • We support the development of Israel as an inclusive society.
  • We believe that if Israel is to be the critical vehicle for Jewish creative continuity, that the State must give space for the broad range of Jewish cultural expression, both secular and religious.
  • We support recognition of the non-orthodox Jewish streams in Israel that the Zionist Movement can play a part in facilitating the inclusion of these streams within the fabric of Israeli society.
  • We believe the Jewish State should promote social justice and opportunity for its working citizens.
  • We honor the role of the Jewish labor movement and its institutions in the development of the country and the protection of living standards and working conditions for working Israelis.
  • We are concerned about growing income inequality in Israel and the difficulties young people have in finding affordable housing within the borders of the State.
  • We believe the Zionist Movement can and must play a part in creating solutions for all these problems.

The land of Israel is a sensitive environmental area vulnerable to fluctuations in rain and temperature. We stand with Israelis working to promote sustainability and environmental protection.

We are aware of the great historical significance of Judea and Samaria, we oppose a program of perpetual occupation in the West Bank.  Today there are about 13.5 million people between the Mediterranean Sea and the Jordan River, roughly evenly split between Jews and non-Jews but with demographic trends favoring the growth of the non-Jewish segment.  Incorporating the West Bank into Israel threatens its Jewish and democratic character.  The continuing occupation is maintained through violence that threatens to corrupt the Israeli Defense Forces and corrode Israeli society, and it presents important long-term security risks.  We stand with Israelis, including leading figures in Israel’s security establishment, who are seeking to establish peace with Palestinians premised on mutual recognition of national rights.

We are deeply disturbed by attacks against Jews in the United States and other countries of the Diaspora, attacks which have increased in numbers and in violence.  We believe anti-Semitism is a form of racism and we resist it along with all forms of racism.  We think it is important for Jews and the Zionist Movement to join with other progressive people to oppose racial hatred and violence.

We honor the Zionist youth movements and, particularly, the progressive Zionist youth movements with their commitment not only to Aliyah but to the building of a just society in Israel at peace with its neighbors.

For Zionists, ideas matter.  They did in back 1897.  Herzl said, “If you will it, it is no dream”. If he were alive today he might say, “If you VOTE, the dream can come true”.

We call upon American Jews to vote in the Zionist Congress elections.

About the Author
Mark Gold is a Board Member of Partners for Progressive Israel (PPI). He has served as Secretary of the American Zionist Movement, President of Americans for Progressive Israel, and has been a delegate to the World Zionist Congress. Hiam Simon of Englewood, NJ, is the past chief operating officer of Ameinu. He lived in Israel for many years, where he was the dean of students for what is now the Alexander Muss High School, and he served in the IDF as a noncommissioned officer in the artillery.
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