Israelis here jump into Zionist election

Naty Horev. Photo courtesy of Naty Horev.

Many names of the U.S.-based slates running in the Zionist election now underway reflect their American orientation: Zionist Organization of America, American Forum for Israel, Americans4Israel, Mercaz USA.

The Israel Shelanu (Our Israel) slate is different. Founded last year, it seeks to represent Israelis who live in this country. And for candidate Naty Horev, the word “our” is more than a pro-Israel sentiment.

“We want to reflect that we’re still Israeli in the core of our being,” said Horev, 37, who lives in Virginia Beach.

The World Zionist Congress, which meets in Jerusalem every five years, is the only elected Jewish institution that Diaspora Jews can participate in. Founded in 1897 by Theodor Herzl, it now serves as a bridge between Diaspora Jews and the Israeli government, and it helps determine how $1 billion is spent in Israel and on Jewish causes.

Horev said Israel Shelanu would like more of that money spent here for things that matter to Israeli Americans, who Israel Shelanu estimates number between 700,000 and 1 million first- and second-generation Israelis.

“It’s time for this population to have a voice,” she said. “We want a place to talk about Israeli needs, here in the States.”

At the top of the list of priorities is Hebrew education. “We care about our kids speaking Hebrew,” she said.

Horev wants more funds for this goal, which she described as “more shlichim [Israeli emissaries], more summer camps, more classes.”

“I don’t look at it as spending,” she said. “I look at it as giving back.”

The group wants to serve as a bridge between Diaspora Jews and Israel. And it wants to promote pluralism, a sore spot for many Diaspora Jews who feel betrayed by the Netanyahu government’s about face in establishing pluralistic prayer spaces at the Kotel in Jerusalem, because of opposition from haredi Orthodox political parties.

“Pluralism is an important part of who we are,” Horev said. “Most of us are not Orthodox. Our position is to help the sector [in Israel] that’s less conservative.”

Horev is fifth on Israel Shelanu’s slate of candidates, which will be elected by proportional representation. Five hundred seats are up for grabs, with 145 reserved for American delegates.

In the last election, in 2015, the Reform movement won the biggest slice with 78 seats.

She said she became involved last summer after she was contacted by the two founders of Israel Shelanu, Shanie Korabelnik and Kobi Cohen, both of New York.

“At first I was on the fence,” Horev said. “The idea that Israelis could have a voice seemed a little bit tricky. But my husband said, ‘What do we want to show as an example to our kids?’ The Jewish community is important, and that’s what we want to show our kids.”

To get on the ballot, Israel Shelanu needed 500 people to enroll and promise to vote, Horev said. They passed that threshold and now Israel  Shelanu is one of 15 U.S. slates, which include the major religious movements, groups on the right and left and a right-wing youth slate.

Israel Shelanu arrives as Israelis in this country are distancing themselves from a tenet of Zionist ideology that views them as “yordim,” people who descended from the heights by leaving Israel. Ironically, they are embracing a Diaspora-created organization that succeeded in creating Israel and Israelis as its ultimate goal.

Horev’s view on this might be called neo-Zionist. “I don’t think yordim defines us anymore,” she said. “We are still Israelis.”

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See also: At Zionist Congress, area delegates see achievement amid chaos


How you can vote in the Zionist election

Voting for the World Zionist Congress continues through March 11. The election of delegates — which is conducted online, and is open to Jews 18 and older — is coordinated by the American Zionist Movement. A click on will show how voting is done, and how one may select from one of the 15 slates.
There is a $7.50 fee to vote ($5 for those 25 and under).

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