The World Zionist Congress completed its elections which it holds every five years and published the results on March 23, 2020. The voting tally was 123,629, a growth of 118% compared to the 2015 elections.
Exhibit 1: WZC Elections Results for 2020 and 2015
|Slate||votes||per cent||votes||per cent|
|American Forum 4 Israel||8,132||6.6%||3,773||6.6%|
|Dorshie Torah Vtzyion||1,373||1.1%|
|Vision / Alliance for New Vision||1,036||0.8%||735||1.3%|
|Americans4Israel / Zionist Spring||857||0.7%||2,696||4.8%|
The enthusiasm for the elections seemed to touch people of all backgrounds and interests with almost every slate showing a net add from 2015 (Ohavei Zion split into Shas Olami and Ohavei Zion, while Green Israel did not run in 2020).
Taking a look in the change in the votes reveals some trends:
Exhibit 2: Change in WZC Votes from 2015 to 2020
|Slate||# votes||votes %||# change %|
|American Forum 4 Israel||4,359||-0.1%||116%|
|Dorshie Torah Vyzion||1,373||1.1%|
|Vision / Alliance for New Vision||301||-0.5%||41%|
|Americans4Israel / Zionist Spring||(1,839)||-4.1%||-68%|
While the Reform movement was able to add 9,700 voters from 2015 to 2020, the 45% increase paled to the overall 118% increase in voter turnout. As such, the percentage of the overall votes for the Reform slate declined by 12.9%, from 38.4% to 25.5%. The biggest percentage gainers in the election were the politically right slates of the Zionist Organization of America (+277%) and Herut (+281%). The brand new slate of Eretz Hakodesh was also a stand-out, pulling in over 20,000 votes.
In considering the overall trend of the election, Americans veered strongly to the right, both religiously and politically in their attitudes towards Israel.
Exhibit 3: WZC Elections by Religious and Political Leanings
Exhibit 3 shows that the religiously right slates added a remarkable 371% votes while the religiously left only grew by 46%. The political divide wasn’t quite as sharp, with the politically right growing by 231% and the politically left slates by 152%. The slates which touted Zionism without the religious or political underpinnings grew by 39%.
There is obviously much speculation as to why the right-leaning voters came out in such great numbers relative to the left-leaning ones. Overall, American Jews still lean heavily towards the left politically and the Orthodox movement is much smaller than the other branches, yet the masses did not come out to vote in the same percentages as right-leaning American Jews.
A key part of getting the votes is simply getting the voters to spend the few minutes and few dollars to cast their vote.
The Mizrachi slate was effective at getting their supporters to participate in this election cycle. The slate consists of Amit, the Orthodox Union, Yeshiva University, Touro, Bnei Akiva, National Council of Young Israel and the Rabbinical Council of America. It worked its email lists and had people at the college campuses urging fellow students to vote for its slate.
The success of Eretz Hakodesh comes from a different orientation than the other slates which rely on established organizational structures. It, like Shas Olami, used the power and draw of its rabbinical leaders. The further right one goes on the religious spectrum, the more inclined one is to follow the directives of one’s spiritual leader. If the rabbis of the devout tell their followers to go out and vote, they will do so without the persistent reminders and second-guessing that exists to a much greater extent in the other denominations.
The Battle Within
The political right rallied the vote in greater numbers than ever before due to the perceived threats to Israel from within the American Jewish community. While Israel has always had hostile Arab and Muslim neighbors, the support of America and diaspora Jewry was never in question, until recently.
Over the past years, the Democratic Party has become more critical of Israel. While the party ditched its pro-Israel platform in 2012, there was still hope among many Jews that the pivot to a “neutral” stance would bring peace to the region. But in 2014, the peace process collapsed and in 2015 the Democratic Obama administration signed the Iranian nuclear deal giving Iran a legal pathway to nuclear weapons without requiring any change in the country’s behavior including its calls to destroy the Jewish State. At the end of 2015, the Obama administration allowed the passage of United Nations Resolution 2334 which declared it illegal for any Jew to live east of the 1949 Armistice Lines including the Old City of Jerusalem. By 2018, vocal anti-Zionists like Ilhan Omar (D-MN) and Rashida Tlaib (D-MI) won seats in Congress promoting a boycott (BDS) of Israel. For many American Jews, it was too much to bear, especially as the two surrounded Democratic presidential candidate Bernie Sanders, who is the most anti-Israel presidential candidate ever to run on a national ticket.
The ZOA platform targeted BDS and supported a Unified Jerusalem, fielding a slate of 27 groups like Americans for a Safe Israel, The Lawfare Project, NORPAC, One Israel Fund and Students Supporting Israel. These groups are fully engaged in a mission to support and defend Israel all year. Their Zionism is not a complacent one as it might be for some of the other slates which are pro-Israel, but in a more passive and secondary mode. ZOA, like Herut Zionists, were highly motivated to combat the strong forces turning against Israel from within the American Jewish community.
ZOA Chairman Mark Levenson said “we were at this for nine months and a lot hard work went into getting us here. There are several important issues for us to address including fighting BDS and terrorism and we’re thrilled to have a majority of center-right and right-leaning parties with whom to work with going forward.”
The left-wing was passionate as well, with an additional 34,800 people voting for progressive religious and political slates. The non-Orthodox movements had an advantage of getting people to vote when they gathered at temples on Saturday which the Orthodox groups could not as they do not use computers or pay for items on the Sabbath. But the nearly thirty-five thousand incremental votes only tell part of the story. There are a significant number of left-wing Jews who support groups like Jewish Voice for Peace, Code Pink and IfNotNow. These groups were not allowed to participate in the elections by the American Zionist Movement as they do not support the Jerusalem Program and are viewed as anti-Zionist. Many of those groups’ supporters likely voted for the Hatikvah slate which is viewed as a tad more mainstream and therefore allowed to participate in the elections, but many alt-left Jews likely avoided the WZC election altogether.
Overall, the parties on the right surpassed those on the left, in a dramatic reversal of the 2015 WZC election results which had the left trouncing the right by a margin of 34,804 to 13,371.
Reacting to the results, Vice Chairman of World Zionist Organization and Chairman of World Likud Yaakov Hagoel said “It is amazing to see how the number of ballots cast doubled in this election from the last congress. It is a testament of how the Zionist movement continues to work and to grow even reaching new communities that were not involved in the past. Similarly, we are thrilled that the broad right wing Zionistic factions have grown in number and strength, which will ensure that this World Zionist Congress will move the national institutions in a better direction on behalf of the Jewish nation.”
In July 2015, just a few months after Vice President Joe Biden, Sen. Bernie Sanders and Sen. Elizabeth Warren snubbed Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s address to a joint session of Congress, and one month after the last WZC election, the Jewish people commemorated the holiday of Tisha B’Av, about the destruction of the Jewish Temples. Don Futterman, the Program Director at The Moriah Fund and columnist for the left-wing paper Haaretz wrote the following:
For secular Jews, “Tisha b’Av seems a vestigial organ. It may have had a function in an earlier stage of our evolution, but today seems irrelevant. Many non-Orthodox Jews feel there is enough officially mandated sadness in our calendar.”
Viewing Jerusalem as a “vestigial organ,” likely made it easy for secular Jews to support Obama’s nod to U.N. Resolution 2334. That same attitude may be permeating swaths of progressive American Jewry regarding all of Israel, as an outdated talisman unworthy of support; an easy sacrifice to build bridges to coveted intersectional brethren for more pressing social justice causes. At least that’s what American Jews of the political and religious right believe, and they came out in droves to combat that sentiment and fully support the Jewish State.
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