Critical Vote on Right-wing Takeover of World Zionist Congress Delayed

Power shift at the World Zionist Congress may strip progressive and center-left parties of influence, unless a compromised is reached by Thursday

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The 35th World Zionist Congress in Jerusalem, June 22, 2006.
The 35th World Zionist Congress in Jerusalem, June 22, 2006.Credit: Tomer Appelbaum
Judy Maltz
Judy Maltz

Faced with opposition from key Jewish organizations in the Diaspora, leaders of the World Zionist Congress resolved on Tuesday to postpone a vote on a controversial agreement that would effectively have handed over control of key institutions to right-wing and rigidly Orthodox parties.

The vote on the so-called “coalition agreement” was scheduled for Tuesday, the opening day of the proceedings of the congress. The agreement, drafted over the weekend by right-wing and Orthodox parties holding a majority of seats in the congress (among delegations with voting rights), would strip non-Orthodox movements and Zionist center-left parties of any real influence in the World Zionist Organization and its affiliate organizations – the Jewish Agency for Israel, United Israel Appeal (Keren Hayesod), and the Jewish National Fund (Keren Kayemeth LeIsrael).

In an emergency meeting, the congressional presidium voted to wait until Thursday, the last day of the proceedings, in the hope that changes acceptable to the oppoisiton might be introduced. For the first time in history, the congress, which convenes every five years, is holding its proceedings online.

If no compromise is reached, the opposition is considering drafting an alternative agreement, which would also be put up for a vote on Thursday.

Agreements on the divvying up of positions and departments in the Zionist institutions have traditionally been reached through widespread consensus among all the parties and movements represented in the congress.

Among the 521 delegates attending the congress, a slight majority of 269 are affiliated with the right-wing and religious party. In past congresses, the progressive parties have enjoyed a slight majority. What tipped the balance this time was the emergence of a new ultra-Orthodox party, which captured a relatively large percentage of the American vote in elections held earlier this year (American delegates hold one-third of the seats in the congress.)

As part of the coalition agreement, that party, Eretz Hakodesh, was offered a brand new ultra-Orthodox division in the World Zionist Organization. In addition, representatives of Eretz Hakodesh would fill two key positions in the Jewish National Fund: Deputy chairman and chairman of its education department.

The opposition parties and movements charge that the agreement left them with mere “crumbs.”

Because they have lost their majority, the progressive parties say they understand the need to relinquish some control in the Zionist institutions, but are not willing to lose all their influence.

In a letter sent to the leaders of the World Zionist Organization on Monday, Rhoda Smolowe, the national president of Hadassah, the international Jewish women’s organization, warned that if the original agreement is approved, “it will have a negative effect not only for today and not only those currently engaged, but also future generations of Zionist activists.”

“This agreement, if passed, could very well disenfranchise the younger men and women with whom we will be depending on for future leadership roles to support the Zionist movement, which has always been inclusive of diverse ideologies,” she wrote.

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