The World Zionist Congress, the organization started by Theodor Herzl in 1897, is having elections again through March 11, 2020.
The organization’s continued existence – let alone the election – is seemingly a curiosity. Why continue an assembly whose mission has already been achieved? The dream of Jewish sovereignty in part of the Jewish homeland was reached in 1948, and throughout Jerusalem in 1967. Is the dream of Zionism still unfulfilled? Does it morph over time?
Or is the WZC simply a manifestation of a collective aspiration, no different than Israel’s national anthem, the Hatikvah, which still speaks of “The Hope” of returning to the land of Zion. Does it remain the country’s national anthem to this day because the hope remains unfulfilled as being free doesn’t end with sovereignty but with true enduring freedom, that the hope is sovereignty that stretches over the entirety of the Jewish homeland, or because one doesn’t stop aspiring to something like love, once already in love?
The American Zionist Movement is in charge of running the elections in the United States. AZM has been around for 80 years and is an umbrella group of 33 Zionist groups. Its staff includes three full-time people and three consultants.
The election is open to every Jew over 18 years old (as of June 30, 2020). It costs $7.50 to register for the elections, down from the $10 fee in 2015, as AZM is striving to increase voter turnout.
At stake is the direction of roughly $1 billion, which is the collective budgets of the World Zionist Organization, the Jewish Agency, JNF-KKL and Keren Hayesod. Various WZC sub-committees will influence the allocation of resources and policies of those organizations. For example, the international program “Birthright” which brings young Jews for a free trip to Israel might either visit Judea and Samaria or be restricted from visiting it depending on whether right-leaning or left-leaning slates get elected to the WZC.
There are fifteen slates in this 2020 election, representing roughly 1,800 candidates with a wide range of viewpoints. A review of those slates can be found HERE.
The WZC Election by the Numbers
The draw of the WZC appears to have faded over the last few decades, at least in the United States. The 56,450 votes cast in 2015 at the last WZC election, was a paltry sum by historical standards. While WZC elections are supposed to be held every five years, it was not held in 2010. In 2006, a total of 75,686 Americans voted in the elections, a total of 88,753 in 2002, and in 1997 the total was 107,832. If those drops of 18%, 15% and 25% between elections look depressing, consider that the 1987 WZC election had 210,957 Americans voting, meaning that during the eventful decade between 1987 and 1997 – those years which included the First Intifada and the Oslo Accords – American apathy towards Israel doubled, if one could use votes in the WZC as a proxy.
Perhaps it is unfair to state that American Jews were distancing themselves from Israel in the 1987 to 1997 decade. The Oslo Accords were controversial for many, and maybe Americans concluded that the concept of the Israeli government considering the views of American Jews when making policy was either historical or a marketing ploy. Just as the national anthem of Israel, “The Hope,” would appear as a more logical dream for people OUTSIDE of Israel than its inhabitants, the idea of being a “free people in our land, the land of Zion and Jerusalem,” may have held – and holds – different meanings for Israeli and Diaspora Jews: for the former it is a dream of daily peace, while for Diaspora Jews it is an aspiration to bond the Jewish collective of the people, religion and land. Zionism means different things to people around the world, and certainly on a daily practical level for Israelis living in a hostile neighborhood. The Israeli government may care about the opinions of Diaspora Jews, but within limits, and certainly as it relates to daily security.
In regards to the WZC elections, the United States is unique in that it reaches out to its Jews to vote for its representatives. Of the 525 seats in the World Zionist Congress at this election, the United States is allotted 152, or 29% of the seats. Roughly 37% of the seats go to Israel and 34% to the rest of the world based very roughly on the world’s global Jewish population. Israel allocates its seats based on the members of Knesset and the countries of the world allow their major Jewish organizations to directly decide on their representatives.
The WZC voter turnout has been spotty. The United States has eleven states with populations which are over two per cent Jewish. These “Jewish states” did not have great turnouts at the 2015 WZC elections, with fewer than half having one percent of their populations voting. Meanwhile, some smaller states like Oklahoma and Arizona had great turnouts in 2015, with 4.9% and 2.9% of the Jewish populations voting, respectively. As a consequence, the Jews of Oklahoma had a greater impact than the Jews of Oregon, even while the Jewish population was less than one-tenth the size.
2015 World Zionist Election
States with Highest Percentage Jewish Population
|State||Per Cent Jewish Population||Per Cent of Jews Voting in WZC|
The global community got seats according to their Jewish populations. While Israel and the USA got 190 and 145 seats at the 2015 election, respectively, other countries received significantly fewer seats: France (23), Canada (20), England (19), Australia (13) and Argentina and Russia each with 10. There were 25 countries with fewer than ten seats. Some countries received “penalties” from the Zionist Supreme Court which reduced their seats, resulting in Germany and the Netherlands each having no representation.
The political leanings of the various countries’ ruling authorities were clear. France voted 30% of their members to Likud and England 36%, while Australia only allotted 8% of the seats to Likud. Putting the various parties into groupings of Left, Center and Right shows an interesting divide in the Jewish world’s orientation towards their religious and political leanings as shown in the table below:
2015 World Zionist Election
Global Religious and Political Leanings
Note: Left consists of Kadima, Mercaz Olami, Zionist Union, Arzenu and Meretz; Center consists of Yesh Atid, Kulanu, Confederation, Over the Rainbow and undefined; Right consists of Likud, Mizrachi, Beiteinu Olami and Ohavei Tzion
Israel is more right-leaning and the United States is much more left-leaning than the rest of the world. Almost no Jews in the US vote for centrist slates, a unique phenomenon.
If you want to have your opinions reflected in the direction of Zionism over the next five years, register and vote at zionistelection.org
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