Reform Zionist Organization Accuses WZO Leader of 'Imposing Will of Few on Many'

Rabbi Lawrence Englander attacks WZO for decision to transfer millions to various Orthodox programs in the U.S., South America and Europe.

Send in e-mailSend in e-mail
WZO Chairman Avraham Duvdevani, left.
WZO Chairman Avraham Duvdevani, left.Credit: WZO

The World Zionist Organization received official notification on Wednesday that its members from the progressive religious and political movements intend to seek an injunction against recent budgetary allocations to Orthodox-sponsored programs.  

The notice was provided in a letter sent by Rabbi Lawrence Englander, the chair of Arzenu (the international umbrella organization for Reform Zionists) to WZO chair Avraham Duvdevani.

In the sharply worded letter, Englander accused Duvdevani, a representative of the Orthodox Zionist movement, of dragging the organization in a dangerous direction. “Instead of democracy, I see the few imposing their will on the many,” he wrote. “Instead of equality and respect, I hear insults and shouting. I regret to say that your own behavior has contributed to this deterioration.”

The latest example, Englander wrote, was the decision taken by the WZO finance committee last week to transfer millions of shekels to various Orthodox programs in the United States, South America and Europe. The funding was approved at a meeting the progressive movement members say was sabotaged. The finance committee director, a representative of the Zionist Union faction, said he would not hold a vote on the allocations to Orthodox programs until it could be determined that they complied with organizational rules for equitable distribution of funding among the various religious movements. After he left the meeting, together with representatives of the progressive religious and political movements, Duvdevani held the vote in their absence.

“Circumventing the progressive Zionist partners in the WZO is counterproductive, demeaning, unnecessary and regretful,” wrote Englander. “It is my expectation that going forward you will make every effort to operate in such a spirit that is cooperative, welcoming, positive and polite, even in the face of differences of opinion.”

Asked to comment, Duvdevani forwarded to Haaretz his letter of response to Englander. In it, he maintained that the information contained in Englander’s letter was “based on biased and incorrect information.”

“It’s a shame that you didn’t bother to verify these things before stating things that are far from the truth,” Duvdevani wrote in his response.

He added that the decision taken in the finance committee “was by a democratic vote and with a clear majority,” with the WZO internal comptroller present and with the approval of the organization’s legal adviser. 

The Reform Zionists are being joined in their appeal to the Zionist Supreme Court – the entity responsible for adjudicating in all disputes involving organizations that are part of the Zionist movement – by member of the Conservative Zionist faction, the Zionist Union party and Meretz. This would be the first time that the Zionist Supreme Court has ever been petitioned on a matter related to WZO finance committee decisions.  

Explaining the decision to seek judicial intervention, Englander wrote to Duvdevani: “Our aim in doing so is to ensure that budget approval is a transparent and legal process and that all streams of Judaism receive equal treatment without favoring one particular stream to the detriment of the others.”

The WZO is an international Zionist organization whose executive board is comprised of representatives of all the main Zionist movements and religious streams of Judaism. The breakdown of seats among them is determined by elections held every few years. Meant to function as an international parliament for the Zionist movement, it funds projects both in Israel and the Diaspora that promote Jewish identity and Zionism.

A source in Arzenu said the appeal to the Zionist Supreme Court could be submitted “as early as next week.”