The deadline is rapidly approaching on the other Israel election.
April 30 is the last day eligible U.S. voters can cast a ballot for representation to the 37th World Zionist Congress, the legislative branch of the World Zionist Organization, which meets every five years to decide matters related to global Jewry and Zionism and oversees the budgets of several high-profile agencies in Israel.
The Zionist Organization, now known as the WZO, was formed in 1897 by Theodor Herzl at the First Zionist Congress in Basle, Switzerland. Since the founding of Israel in 1948, the WZO’s mission has evolved. Combined with the Jewish Agency, WZO is the official liaison between the Jewish diaspora and the Israeli government.
The WZO founded and oversees the multimillion-dollar budgets of the Jewish National Fund and the Jewish Agency. Apart from the iconic tzedakah boxes and tree-planting initiatives, the JNF is a major landowner in Israel. Likewise, the Jewish Agency, originally conceived to aid new immigrants, has expanded to funding Jewish educational programming worldwide.
More controversial, the WZO has a settlement division that is funded by the Israeli government and is not subject to Israeli public disclosure laws. The division’s offices were raided by Israeli police during a corruption investigation last December, resulting in the passage of a resolution that would put the division totally under WZO’s control and force budget disclosure.
Yet, few of the potentially millions of eligible American voters participate, even though the bar to cast a ballot has been set low.
To cast a ballot in the election, which in America is managed by the American Zionist Movement, voters must be Jewish, a permanent resident of the United States, at least 18 years old, cannot have participated in the most recent Israeli election and must subscribe to the Jerusalem program, a document that stands as the official platform of the WZO and outlines the objectives of the Zionist movement. It was last amended in 2004 to reflect the future growth of the Jewish state as
opposed to previous iterations that focused on Israel’s establishment.
For $10, or $5 for those age 30 or younger, eligible American participants can register online at myvoteourisrael.com and vote for one of 11 slates vying for seats in the WZC.
The WZC is comprised of approximately 500 seats. The largest share, 190 seats, is reserved for Israelis, and representation is determined by Knesset elections. The United States is allotted 145 seats, which are divvied up in accordance with election results. The remaining 165 seats are divided among the rest of global Jewry.
Squabbling between right-leaning and left-leaning slates began early in the election cycle. The Zionist Organization of America filed a complaint against HaTikvah, which includes leadership from J Street, the New Israel Fund and Americans for Peace Now. It seeks to bar them from running over accusations that some members support the boycott, divestment and sanctions, or BDS, movement. HaTikvah officially opposes BDS, and the complaint was dismissed, but Morton Klein, national president of ZOA, has appealed to the Zionist Supreme Court.
Looking to bring unity among Jewish Zionists is the Zionist Spring slate, which features many Baltimoreans, including Jay Bernstein and Baltimore Zionist District Chairman Jim Schiller.
Aside from the usual rallying points of combating anti-Semitism and promoting youth involvement in Israel, Zionist Spring is calling for increased budget transparency and the direct election of the WZO chairman by WZC delegates.
Rounding out the rest of the slates are: Mercaz USA: The Zionist Arm of the Conservative Movement; Alliance for New Zionist Vision; American Forum for Israel; World Sephardic Zionist Organization – Ohavei Zion; ARZA: Representing Reform Judaism; Herut North America – The Jabotinsky Movement; Green Israel: Aytzim/Green Zionist Alliance/Jewcology; Religious Zionist Slate: and Vote Torah for the Soul of Israel.
Twenty-five percent of each slate must be set aside for delegates under age 35, and 30 percent of each list must be women.
The 37th WZC will convene in Jerusalem in October.
Melissa Apter is a reporter at Baltimore Jewish Times, a sister publication of Washington Jewish Week.