World Zionist Congress Elections

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The World Zionist Congress elections are happening this year. 

  • Do your students know about it? 
  • Have you discussed with your children what Zionism means to them personally? 
  • What does it mean to be a Zionist who chooses to live outside of Israel? 

One hundred twenty-three years ago, Theodor Herzl, who had just seen the ugliness of anti-Semitism rear its ugly head in the Dreyfus Affair, said “enough is enough” and created the first Zionist congress. After the first Zionist conference in Basel in 1897, Herzl presciently quipped:

Were I to sum up the Basel Congress in a word — which I shall guard against pronouncing publicly — it would be this: At Basel, I founded the Jewish State. If I said this out loud today, I would be answered by universal laughter. Perhaps in five years, certainly in fifty, everyone will know it.

Just over fifty years later, the Jewish people were no longer stateless. While Zionism comes in many shapes and sizes – religious, cultural, labor, political, revisionist, right-wing, left-wing, and yes, even diaspora – one thing remains constant: there is no such thing as an “armchair Zionist.” The term itself is a contradiction of terms. In order to be a Zionist, one must be proactive, one must be a “doer.” 

That’s why phrases like: 

  • Ein ani lo yachol, yesh ani lo rotze” (“There is no ‘I can’t’, only ‘I don’t want’.”) 
  • Im tirtzu, ein zu aggada” (“If you will it, it is no dream.”)
  • “Mah she’lo holech bikoach, holech biyoter koach” (“What does not work with strength works with more strength.”) 

are part of the fabric of Israeli society. 

Being proactive is in the Zionist’s DNA. To be a Jew is to get up and do. That’s why I want to encourage everyone to bring the World Zionist Congress to your educational setting. Remind your students, your friends, your colleagues, and your children that wherever they live, they have a stake in the future of the Jewish people.



What’s the story?

Who is the first person that comes to mind when you think about Zionism? Chances are it is Theodor (Binyamin Ze’ev) Herzl, the iconic founder of political Zionism. Herzl famously organized the first-ever Zionist Congress, held in Basel, Switzerland, in 1897. The initial goal of the World Zionist Organization was to develop infrastructure in what was then Ottoman- controlled Palestine in preparation for an eventual Jewish homeland in the land of Israel. 

Today, the Zionist Congress is the largest democratic exercise in the Jewish world and, according to the World Zionist Organization, the congress aims to “represent the entire political and religious spectrum of the Zionist movement.” The congress, often refered to as the “parliament of the Jewish people” is the supreme ideological and policy-making body of the World Zionist Organization and makes key decisions of how to allocate around one billion dollars annually to support Israel and world Jewry. Initially, the World Zionist Congress was held for a minimum of every two years until World War I. More recently, the congress has convened every 4-5 years; the last World Zionist Congress was in 2015.

World Zionist Congress Elections

There are 500 delegates in the World Zionist Congress that are determined based on their country of origin. Israel receives 38% of the delegates, the United States receives 29% of the delegates, and the rest of Diaspora Jewry receives the remaining 33% of delegates. The delegates are elected on behalf of their Diaspora organizations and on behalf of the Zionist political parties, which are represented in accordance with their representation in the Knesset. Leading up to each World Zionist Congress, elections are held for the new delegates. The 38th World Zionist Congress will be held in October 2020, and those elected before the congress will be given the enormous responsibility of deciding in which direction the Zionist movement will move in the next five years.

Who’s running? What are the different slates? Who should you vote for? 

Check out the 15 slates running in the US election for the 38th World Zionist Congress:

  1. Eretz Hakodesh: Protecting the Kedusha and Mesorah of Eretz Yisrael
  2. Vote Reform: ARZA Representing the Reform Movement and Reconstructing Judaism
  3. Israel Shelanu (Our Israel) 
  4. Orthodox Israel Coalition – Mizrachi: Vote Torah
  5. Vision: Empowering the Next Generation
  6. MERCAZ USA: The Voice of Conservative/Masorti Judaism
  7. Dorshei Torah V’Tziyon: Torah and Israel for All
  8. Hatikvah: Progressive Israel Slate
  9. Ohavei Zion: World Sephardic Zionist Organization
  10. Herut Zionists: The Jabotinsky Movement
  11. ZOA Coalition: Zionist Organization of America (ZOA), Torah from Sinai, Make Israel Great (MIG) & National Pro-Israel Partners – Courageously Defending Israel, Sovereignty & the Jewish People
  12. American Forum for Israel
  13. Americans4Israel: Peace, Unity & Security
  14. Kol Yisrael: For the Love of Israel – Making Zionism Compelling in the 21st Century
  15. Shas Olami

How can you participate?

For the American Zionist movement, voting is now open until March 11, 2020. The rules to vote include being Jewish, being at least 18 years old, being a permanent resident of the United States, and not voting in the upcoming March 2nd Israeli elections. There are 15 slates running in the 2020 US election for the 38th World Zionist Congress which represent a variety of political beliefs, cultural traditions, and religious denominations — reflecting the diversity of American Jewry.

Discussion Questions

  1. What can it mean for someone to be a Zionist living outside of Israel?
  2. Should Jews living outside of Israel have any say about what happens in Israel, and vice versa?
  3. In clear objection to David Ben Gurion, who asserted that Israel was now the de-facto center of the Jewish world in 1950, Jacob Blaustein, then-President of the American Jewish Committee, remarked that “there can be no single spokesman for World Jewry, no matter who that spokesman might try to be.” More recently, in 2015 after a trip to Paris after a terror attack on a kosher supermarket, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said, “I went to Paris not just as the Prime Minister of Israel but as a representative of the entire Jewish people.” Does Israel represent all of world Jewry? How might this question factor into the World Zionist Congress?
  4. At the 6th Zionist Congress in 1903, Herzl proposed the Uganda program, which would create a temporary refuge for Jews in danger in Uganda. Multiple members of the Zionist movement (known as the “Territorialists”) researched and advocated for a Jewish state in places outside the land of Israel due to the dire situation of European Jewry. If the Jewish people had established a Jewish state outside of the land of Israel, how do you think it would have affected Jewish history’?

Practical Classroom Tips

  1. Watch our VIDEO about Herzl, the founder of political Zionism and utilize the accompanying educational resources. 
  2. Mock Election:
    • Divide your students into 15 groups and assign each group to a different one of the slates (listed above) running in the US election for the Zionist Congress.
    • After reading their pre-assigned slate’s platforms, each group should present the 3 most important goals of their respective slates to the group.
    • Hold an actual vote with the group and show the results. 
    • Discuss the results guided by the following questions:
      • Were the results surprising? Why or why not?
      • What do the results teach you about the group’s Zionism?
      • What does Zionism mean to you?
  3. “Speak like you’re right, listen like you’re wrong.” In Eruvin 13b, the following was said:
    “For three years Beit Shammai and Beit Hillel disagreed. These said: The halakha is in accordance with our opinion, and these said: The halakha is in accordance with our opinion. Ultimately, a Divine Voice emerged and proclaimed: Both these and those are the words of the living God. However, the halakha is in accordance with the opinion of Beit Hillel.”

Since both “these and those are the words of the living God,” why were Beit Hillel privileged to have the halakha established in accordance with their opinion? The reason is that they were agreeable and forbearing, showing restraint when affronted, and when they taught the halakha they would teach both their own statements and the statements of Beit Shammai. Moreover, when they formulated their teachings and cited a dispute, they prioritized the statements of Beit Shammai to their own statements, in deference to Beit Shammai. In a think-pair-share exercise, ask your students to review this passage and discuss where in their lives they can follow Beit Hillel more, ensuring that this motto of “speaking like you’re right and listening like you’re wrong” is more than a quotable quote, but an idea that underpins all of our interactions.

Further Reading

  1. Did you enjoy this year’s Super Bowl commercials? One of this year’s ads was created by Eko, an Israeli startup that allows viewers to create the interactive ad themselves. 
  2. Last night, the gas pipeline between Egypt and Israel was bombed by unknown militants. The pipeline was only launched a month ago as Israel began transferring gas from the Leviathan natural gas field to Egypt. Shortly after the explosion, Israel’s energy ministry issued a statement saying that the pipeline is flowing gas without any issues.
  3. One of the biggest stories in Israeli current events continues to be President Donald Trump’s peace plan for the Israelis and Palestinians. Use the “extra” weekly we produced last week to break down and analyze what Trump’s plan means for Israel and its neighbors.

Noam Weissman

Dr. Noam Weissman is Senior Vice President at OpenDor Media. He leads the education vision and implementation at OpenDor Media with a special focus on the development of meaningful content and resources for students and educators. He holds a doctorate in educational psychology from USC with a focus on curriculum design.

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