WZO Congress Opens in Jerusalem, With New Vision for Jewish State

New member Shas seeks to change organization's mission statement from 'an exemplary society' to a society based on 'the Torah of Israel.'

The World Zionist Organization Congress opens today in Jerusalem, with first-time participant Shas on hand - a party whose critics say seeks to undermine Zionism's foundations.

Yeshiva students, Nir Kafri
Nir Kafri

Shas joined the organization only about six months ago but has already submitted a number of conservative resolutions.

The most controversial proposals involve changes to the WZO constitution; one would replace the aspiration for a state based on "mutual respect for the multifaceted Jewish people" with one based on "love of the Jewish people" and "an exemplary society rooted in the vision of the prophets" with a society based on "the Torah of Israel."

Shas also seeks to increase the power within WZO of Israeli representatives at the expense of Diaspora Jewry, especially Americans.

At present, congress delegates represent in roughly equal numbers Israeli and U.S. Jews as well as Jews from the rest of the world.

Shas proposes that half the delegates come from Israel. Another 10 percent would come from the Diaspora but be selected by Zionist institutions in Israel.

The U.S. delegation would comprise only 15 percent of the total, and the remaining 25 percent would come from the rest of the Diaspora.

"Shas wants to mount an assault on the foundations of Zionism," says Rabbi Gilad Kariv of the Israel Religious Action Center, the advocacy arm of Israel's Reform movement.

"Since its inception Zionism has spoken of Israel as a Jewish, democratic and liberal state that is not rooted in Jewish law. We know how the term 'love of the Jewish people' is used to say that I love those who behave as I do."

But Shas MK Yaakov Margi says that "these institutions have atrophied over time, the dust must be shaken off and they must be reattached to the State of Israel, especially in this era of the rise of post-Zionism."