An Assembly for the World's Jews

I believe that it would be more appropriate to set up a kind of Jewish "assembly" which would be composed, primarily, of Jewish elected officials from the various parliaments around the world and Israel and would be convened once or twice a year.

Yossi Beilin
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Yossi Beilin

At the dawn of the 21st century, world Jewry is facing various fundamental problems, some of which are ongoing, others new. But it has no institutionalized forum in which to discuss them. Issues such as Jewish continuity, the definition of who's a Jew, facing up to anti-Semitism and racism, assistance with immigration to Israel, assistance to Jewish communities in distress and many other questions are being discussed by organizations that have become professional in one field or another. But their considerations are being held without a worldwide Jewish forum taking part in the discussion, passing the relevant resolutions and being instrumental in putting the resolutions into practice.

One of the reasons for this strange state of affairs is the existence of Jewish organizations that are dealing with these issues but demand a monopoly for themselves, thus silencing any attempt to set up a framework that might compete with them and cause funds to be diverted to other places.

The World Zionist Organization, already 109 years old, is a pathetic vestige of the organization founded by Theodor Herzl, which was most relevant in the years leading up to the founding of the State of Israel. Instead of being disbanded in 1948, with the establishment of the state, it continues to exist as an anachronistic framework, which represents a tiny fraction of the Jewish people, transforming Zionism from a movement striving for the realization of the Jewish people and its transition from the Diaspora to the State of Israel, into a movement for "Lovers of Zion" - in other words, Jews who care deeply about Israel and are interested in what goes on there, but who wouldn't dream of going to live there.

The content of the Zionist Congresses and the Zionists Organization of America directorate is of no interest to the Jewish community around the world and, for the most part, the work remains in the hands of "professional Zionists," for whom such forums are a kind of old people's club, which has provided an income or employment for them for decades.

The Jewish Agency, which is composed of "Zionists" and men of means, and which benefits from an ever-diminishing portion of the funds of the United Jewish Appeal, performs important activities in the fields of education, immigration to Israel and immigrant absorption in Israel. But its structure is outdated, and it is not a forum that represents the Jewish people or allows serious and influential discussions to be held in its framework.

The other organizations are American organizations involved in Jewish-American issues and trying to change their objectives, given that the original objectives for which they were set up at the beginning of the 20th century have already been realized a long time ago (organizations such as the American Jewish Committee and the American Jewish Congress). The World Jewish Congress, which has Israeli representatives and has been successful in preserving far more vitality than other groups, is also an organization with total American dominance, so that it is not an appropriate forum for the discussion of issues concerning world Jewry.

In a world in which it is much easier to create a virtual community, thanks to video-conferencing, the Internet, interactive TV, etc., the Jewish people has relinquished the right to recreate a worldwide Jewish community, whose core would comprise the two largest communities in the Jewish world - North America and Israel (about 85 percent of world Jewry), joined by the Jewish communities of Europe, South America, Australia and South Africa.

In 1997, I proposed the establishment of an elected worldwide Jewish parliament that would meet twice a year, set up an executive institution, receive a budget and act to advance Jewish objectives, and other objectives too.

This proposal was met with various criticisms. Some critics claimed that an elected parliament would create suspicions of a worldwide Jewish conspiracy, thus causing renewed accusations of dual loyalty. Others claimed that it was not practical to discuss elections in the Jewish world and that such an organization could only exist if it were appointed.

The president of Israel, Moshe Katsav, now proposes that a worldwide Jewish organization be set up to constitute a kind of "Second Chamber" for the Knesset and which would deliberate upon issues discussed in the First Chamber that are of relevance for world Jewry. Critics of this proposal say that it would be impossible for the First Chamber to be made up of both Jews and Arabs, while the Second Chamber comprised Jews alone.

I believe that it would be more appropriate to set up a kind of Jewish "assembly" which would be composed, primarily, of Jewish elected officials from the various parliaments around the world and Israel and would be convened once or twice a year. Thus it would be possible to set up a worldwide Jewish meeting with people who are very relevant to their political systems, people who have undergone an election process (even if it was not a Jewish election process), and it would be possible to take away from the "professional Jews" their dominance in the management of Jewish affairs.

It is necessary to ascertain whether the Jewish elected officials from around the world would be prepared to take part in such an organization. If answers are affirmative, the framework must be set up under the sponsorship of the president of Israel, and it is to be hoped that existing organizations will not undermine this effort.

Yossi Beilin is leader of the Yahad party.