By Michael Jacobs | firstname.lastname@example.org
Voting has been open for more than a week in the most important election few people are talking about.
Through April 30, anyone who lives in the United States, will be at least 18 years old by June 30, identifies as Jewish and accepts Zionism’s six-point Jerusalem Program may vote in the American Zionist Movement’s elections for the U.S. delegation to the 37th World Zionist Congress this fall. (You can view the Jerusalem Program at www.wzo.org.il/The-Jerusalem-Program, but if you believe that a democratic Israel should exist as the homeland of the Jewish people, you’ll likely accept the program.)
“This is your only opportunity to express your vision of Israel,” the AZM says on its election website, myvoteourisrael.com.
The election, in which you vote for a slate of candidates rather than individuals, will select 145 of the 500 delegates to the congress. Israel has 190 delegates, allocated based on Knesset representation. The rest of the world splits 165 seats.
While the World Zionist Congress might conjure images of Theodor Herzl and other bearded men in black-and-white photos arguing about whether to re-establish the Jewish homeland, this election has real effects on money and power.
The congress establishes policies and leadership for the World Zionist Organization, the Israeli government agency that, among other things, oversees the West Bank settlement program, the Jewish Agency for Israel and the Jewish National Fund.
“I think the chairman of JNF in Israel is the most important, most powerful position in Israel, including the prime minister,” Rabbi Josh Weinberg, the president of the Association of Reform Zionists of America, said during a get-out-the-vote conference call in mid-December.
The congress has tried to set settlement policy, including voting to end settlements in 1983 (the vote was annulled).
But when the American Zionist Movement held voting for its delegation to the 2006 congress, the 35th, slightly fewer than 86,000 of the roughly 6 million eligible Jewish voters in the United States registered to vote, and fewer than 76,000 cast ballots. That’s a turnout of about 1.3 percent of the eligible Jewish population.
The AZM didn’t bother with an election to choose delegates to the congress in 2010.
ARZA received 39 percent of the votes and 56 delegates in the 2006 election. Also winning delegates were the Religious Zionists, 35 seats; the Conservative movement’s Mercaz USA, 33; Hatikva, a coalition of Ameinu and Meretz, seven; the Zionist Organization of America, five; the Green Zionist Alliance, Herut USA, Bnai Zion and American Forum for Russian Speaking Jewry/Russian American Jews for Israel, two each; and the Baltimore Zionist District, one.
Perhaps fittingly, considering the parties that have risen and fallen in Israeli politics the past 10 years, the 11 slates contesting this year’s election are different:
• Zionist Spring: Restoring Vision to World Zionism. This slate combines the venerable Baltimore Zionist District, Bnai Zion, Young Judaea and World Confederation of United Zionists behind a vision for a more democratic congress and better diaspora-Israel relations.
• Mercaz USA. The Conservative slate promotes a pluralistic Israel, support for aliyah, a negotiated two-state solution and sound environmental policies. Margo Gold from Ahavath Achim Synagogue, the president of the United Synagogue for Conservative Judaism, and Congregation Etz Chaim Rabbi Shalom Lewis of East Cobb are among the candidates.
• Alliance for New Zionist Vision. The limited slate of 23 “the young adult and student activists most passionately engaged in the national struggles of the Jewish people” wants the WZO to engage in the battles for Jewish identity and Zionism on college campuses.
• American Forum for Israel. This organization for Russian Jews, with a platform in Russian and English, seeks to fully integrate Russian Jews into American Jewish society, to maintain an undivided Jerusalem as Israel’s capital, to keep Israel and the diaspora strong, and to support the ability of the Israel Defense Forces to defend all Jews.
• World Sephardic Zionist Organization — Ohavei Zion. A first-time contender for the congress, Ohavei Zion wants traditional Sephardic Jews to take their rightful place in charting the future of the Jewish people.
• ARZA. The Reform movement’s platform emphasizes gender and religious equality and a two-state peace solution. The slate includes Rabbi Peter Berg of The Temple, Rabbi Bradley Levenberg of Temple Sinai, Women of Reform Judaism President Blair Marks of Temple Kol Emeth, and Jason Boxt and Cantor Rosalie Boxt, brother and sister-in-law of Temple Kol Emeth Rabbi Erin Boxt.
• Herut North America — the Jabotinsky Movement. Herut supports aliyah and rescue of high-risk Jewish communities, educational trips and internships in Israel, and Jewish unity, and it emphasizes that all of its members are unpaid volunteers.
• Hatikvah — the Progressive Zionist Voice. Hatikvah wants to freeze the settlements while seeking a two-state peace solution, women’s rights, recognition for all religious streams and an end to the “oligopoly/plutocracy.” Actor/singer Theodore Bikel heads a slate featuring representatives of such groups as J Street, the New Israel Fund, Americans for Peace Now and Open Hillel.
• Green Israel: Aytzim/Green Zionist Alliance/Jewcology. The focus is on environmental issues, from air quality and animal rights to water conservation, and includes the use of environmental education to improve Israel-diaspora relations.
• Religious Zionists. Backed by organizations such as the Orthodox Union and the National Council of Young Israel, this slate vows to emphasize Torah values in Israel and worldwide and to protect a united Jerusalem.
• Zionist Organization of America. Founded in 1897, this group vows to rescue Jews threatened by Muslim attacks like what happened in Paris, fight campus anti-Semitism, keep an undivided Jerusalem and the settlements, resist a Palestinian state and the BDS movement, and free Jonathan Pollard.
How to Vote
Voting is a two-step process. First, you register at myvoteourIsrael.com, including paying a fee of $10 ($5 if you’re 30 or younger) by personal credit card, e-check or PayPal. The registration fee covers the expenses of the election, administered by Election-America. You then may cast your ballot right away or at any time until April 30.