The non-Orthodox Jewish movements are teaming up with the center-left parties in Israel in a last-ditch effort to prevent the takeover of key international Zionist institutions by right-wing and rigidly Orthodox political parties.
On Tuesday, the World Zionist Congress will be asked to approve an agreement that would effectively hand over control of key positions at the World Zionist Organization and its affiliate organizations – The Jewish Agency for Israel, Keren Hayesod and the Jewish National Fund (Keren Kayemeth LeIsrael in Hebrew) – to these parties.
The World Zionist Congress, which allocates about a billion dollars a year to Jewish causes and is popularly known as the “parliament of the Jewish people,” convenes every five years. The three-day session opening on Tuesday will be held online because of the coronavirus pandemic, rather than in Jerusalem, as is traditionally the case.
Among the 521 delegates who will be casting their votes at the Zionist congress, a narrow majority of 269 delegates are affiliated with the five right-wing and religious parties that drafted the controversial agreement.
It would therefore seem to be a done deal, but not exactly.
The World Zionist Congress has another 232 delegates who represent organizations that traditionally do not vote on senior institutional appointments. These “non-voting” organizations include B’nai Brith International, the Maccabi World Union, Hadassah, the Women’s International Zionist Organization and Na’amat (the latter three of which are women’s groups). Among their delegates, a clear majority align themselves with the non-Orthodox Jewish movements and the center-left parties in Israel.
The non-Orthodox Jewish movements, in collaboration with representatives of the center-left parties, plan to spend the early part of the week urging leaders of these organizations to break with past practice and exercise their right to vote on Tuesday to scuttle an agreement that they claim would strip them of any real influence in the major Zionist institutions.
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“These organizations no longer have the luxury of sitting on the fence,” said Gusti Yehoshua Braverman, chair of the WZO Department for Diaspora Affairs and a representative of the Reform movement on its executive board. “These are organizations that get most of their support from Reform and Conservative Jews. They need to make their move and declare that this agreement is unacceptable.”
Under the terms of the agreement, the top job at the Jewish National Fund, the most powerful of the institutions, would be rotated between Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s Likud party and a coalition of Modern Orthodox parties. For the past five years, the position had been filled by a Labor Party appointee. Kahol Lavan – the new centrist party headed by Benny Gantz that is a key member of the current Israeli coalition government – had been hoping to gain control of it.
The Jewish National Fund controls billions of dollars’ worth of land in Israel and is active in forestry, water and tourism projects. Under the draft agreement, Avraham Duvdevani, a member of the religious Zionist Mizrahi movement and the current chairman of the World Zionist Organization, would hold the position of JNF chairman for two years, and Likud Knesset member Haim Katz would hold it for three years. Katz was forced to resign his position as a cabinet minister last year following his indictment on charges of fraud and breach of trust.