It is by now no secret

Our Hebrew Union College student and contributor to this series, Dan Ross, explains that his version of Zionism, which he calls experimental Zionism, is “not as concerned with Israel’s right to be as they are with what Israel could be.” Dan’s is a visionary, challenging and compelling kind of Zionism. However, in pointing out that he is not concerned with the foundational Zionist claim, he betrays the fact that many of his generation are concerned with it.
In fact, I sense that we face a crisis of Zionist consciousness. Like a good cry, everyone can use a good crisis—a challenging moment of truth that, if wisely channeled, might focus the mind. But the opportunity of crisis requires clarity of vision. In the context of Zionism, unfortunately, genuine but contingent moral quandaries, such as those of occupation, have blurred, rather than helped us focus on, the real source of malaise. That is, American Jews increasingly view Zionism through the prism of its challenges, when we need to do the opposite. American Jews need to grasp Israel’s thorny policy questions through the lens of the Zionist premise.

As long as American Jewry cannot articulate the Zionist claim with self-assurance and evidence, they compromise their ability to speak meaningfully to Israel’s difficulties and the promise of overcoming them. I hasten to stress that I do not espouse a jingoistic Zionism. Rather, in more nuanced fashion, I mean that we should bear our Zionist assertions with sufficient confidence, information and conviction, so as to acknowledge competing claims without being threatened by them.

First, the time has come to reverse Abba Eban’s famous position that “nobody does Israel any service by proclaiming its ‘right to exist.’” Understandably, Eban would prefer to take that right for granted and refuse to re-litigate it every generation. However, as long as our crisis of Zionist consciousness remains internal to American Jewry, we have no choice but to re-articulate and, implicitly, re-argue, the core Zionist position for our own benefit.

Second, our faith in the historical, religious and civilizational imperative of Zionism must inspire the willingness to acknowledge its costs. Zionism does not play itself out in a vacuum; it both encounters and creates significant counterclaims, including many coherent ones. We must find the courage of our convictions, not merely in the articulation of their legitimacy but also in our capacity to accept the fact that they compete directly with other legitimate convictions. That recognition feels risky, but ignoring it only exacerbates our internal crisis, because American Jews widely recognize Palestinian claims, in some measure, already.

In his recent review of Ari Shavit’s My Promised Land in the Jewish Journal, UCLA Professor David Meyers argues that “issuing an apology for the physical dispossession of Arabs in 1948 is not equivalent to accepting the Palestinian right to return.” I am not here concerned with the specific matter of state apologies, but I embrace the spirit behind Prof. Meyers’ point. We must promote a clear-eyed Zionism, confident that concessions do not mean capitulation—not only because Israel happens to be in a strong military position but also because of Israel’s compelling reason for being.

Dr. Holo is the Dean of the Los Angeles Campus and Associate Professor of Jewish History at HUC-JIR/LA. He served as Director of the Louchheim School of Judaic Studies from 2006-2010. Dr. Holo’s publications focus on Medieval Jews of the Mediterranean, particularly in the Christian realm. His book, Byzantine Jewry in the Mediterranean Economy, was published by Cambridge University Press in 2009.

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Information about the World Zionist Congress Elections and ARZENU

Make your voice heard, make a difference
If you care about the Reform Movement in Israel, if you support egalitarian prayer, if you believe in freedom of religion, the right of Reform rabbis to conduct marriage, divorce, burial and conversion, if you believe that women should have equal status, here is your chance to make a difference. Join the ARZENU Reform Zionist group in your country and vote in the World Zionist Congress elections. This is the best way for you to directly influence and impact the future of the Reform Movement in Israel and of the Jewish people around the globe.

What is the World Zionist Organization?
Established in 1897, the World Zionist Organization (WZO) is often called the “Parliament of the Jewish people.” It was convened by Theodor Herzl in Basel and since its inception its goal was to unite the Jewish people and bring about the establishment of the Jewish state. The World Zionist Organization is a global organization supported by Keren Kayemeth LeIsrael (the Jewish National Fund), the Jewish Agency for Israel, Keren Hayesod (United Jewish Appeal) and the Government of Israel.

There are three types of membership in the World Zionist Organization:

  1. International Zionist political parties which compete in elections for their representation, such as the Orthodox, Conservative, Reform (ARZENU), Reconstructionists, World Likud, Meretz, Shas, etc.
  2. International Jewish organizations which have fixed representation and do not compete in elections (the World Union for Progressive Judaism, World Mizrachi, Hadassah, WIZO, B’nai Brith, Maccabi, and others)
  3. Since the establishment of the State of Israel, Israeli political parties have been represented in the WZO based on their relative strength in the Israeli Knesset elections (Likud, Labor, Shas, Meretz, Israel Beiteinu, etc.).

Every five years the WZO convenes a Congress whose representation is determined by democratic elections amongst the international Zionist political parties. Between congresses the Zionist General Council (the Vaad Hapoel) convenes annually for discussions on pressing matters on the agenda of the Jewish people. Participation in one election is effective for five full years!

Representation in the World Zionist Congress elections
The next World Zionist Organization elections will be held worldwide in 2015. Israeli citizens are represented in the elections through political parties in Israel; world Jews are represented through international Zionist political parties to which they belong.

Out of 30 countries represented in the WZO, the Reform Movement has constituent ARZENU organizations in 14 countries. ARZENU is the umbrella organization for all Reform Zionist organizations worldwide.

Member organizations of ARZENU are: ARZA U.S., ARZA Canada, ARZA Australia, ARZA Netherlands, ARZENU South Africa, ARZENU Germany, ARZENU Spain, ARZENU Hungary, ARZENU Switzerland, ARZENU France, Pro Zion in Britain and Austria, Jason ARZENU Argentina, and Chazit Mitkademet in Brazil.

Why are the elections important?
As with the Israel Knesset elections, whoever wins the most votes receives the most important positions and control of budgets, and so it is with the World Zionist Congress elections.

How is this manifested?
Today the Reform Movement in Israel receives allocations of $4.5 to $5 million per annum from the Jewish Agency, Keren Kaymeth LeIsrael (JNF) and Keren Hayesod.

And how does this work? For example the WZO is a 50% owner of the Jewish Agency and therefore appoints 50% of the representatives to the Board of the Jewish Agency. Thus it can strongly impact who will be the chairman of the Agency or the agenda and priorities of the Agency. The same is applicable to the other organizations. In other words, the WZO plays an important role in making decisions on who is appointed to key positions in these organizations. Simply put: whoever has the largest number of representatives in Congress will set goals and have access to the centers of power and money.

For example: On behalf of the Reform Movement in Israel ARZENU uses its power to impact the Jewish Agency budget allocation for religious streams: ARZENU tries to prevent or limit the size of budget cuts to the streams and has largely been successful.

Who are our partners?
Following the last elections to the World Zionist Congress, ARZENU established a Joint Faction with the World Labor Zionist Movement and Meretz Olami (the political arms abroad of these Israeli Knesset parties). This Joint Faction allows us to influence the Knesset and Israeli society. For example, when we fought against the Rotem conversion law we cooperated with the above parties to influence the legislative process.

Another recent example: At the Zionist General Council meetings held in early November 2013, the Joint Faction, spearheaded by ARZENU, was able to pass three resolutions calling on the Israeli government to implement the establishment of egalitarian prayer at the Wall, to pass a marriage and civil divorce law and to prosecute Israelis who incite racism.

The bottom line – what can I do?
Every member country in the WZO has an allocation of delegates based on the Jewish population of that country. For example, the U.S. has 145 delegates at the World Zionist Congress (out of 500 delegates in total). Every 5 years an election is held within each country to determine the composition of the delegates. If you participate in this process, and vote for your ARZENU constituent organization, you make an immediate difference to the future of the Reform Movement.

At a date to be announced – probably towards the beginning of 2015 – all international Zionist political parties will go to the polls. According to the results obtained in these elections each Zionist political party will receive its allocation of delegates to the Congress.

In the last elections, ARZA US gained 56 representatives (out of 145). The entire ARZENU political party received 83 delegates worldwide out of 500. By joining forces with its faction partners, ARZENU became the leader of the largest faction in the WZO with a combined total of 159 representatives. The goal this time is to increase our representation and in order to achieve this we need everyone who participated in the past to do so again and to encourage even more people to register and vote this time.

Who can vote?
Anyone who is Jewish, is over the age of 18 and who signs the “Jerusalem Program.” In addition representatives to the Congress must make a modest annual contribution to UJA/Keren Hayesod and to the JNF-KKL.

The “Jerusalem Program” is the shared vision of all organizations and institutions of WZO and includes amongst its principles:

  • Unity of the Jewish people and the connection to Israel
  • A democratic and egalitarian state according to the vision of the prophets
  • Aliyah and settlement in Israel
  • The centrality of Israel to the Jewish world
  • Dissemination of Jewish culture and education
  • Hebrew language
  • Fighting anti-Semitism

If Israel and the above issues are important to you, please register as a member of ARZENU in your country and vote in the elections. For further details on how to do this please contact Dalya Levy, Executive Director, ARZENU, +972-54-644-2427, dalya@arzenu.org.il