Zionist Congress delegates in mass protest

[Photo is courtesy of Gili Getz.] What follows are the two opening paragraphs of an article by Elisheva Goldberg, the media and policy director for the New Israel Fund and a contributing writer for Jewish Currents, where this was posted on May 3rd:

As the World Zionist Congress (WZC)—a major gathering of world Jewry—met at the Jerusalem Convention Center on April 20th, hundreds of the congress’s delegates gathered outside the venue instead. Draped in blue and white flags and wearing black t-shirts that read “Saving Israeli Democracy” in Hebrew or English, the group, which included Jews from 12 countries, marched to Israel’s Supreme Court, where they held a demonstration in solidarity with Israel’s anti-judicial overhaul demonstrators.

Ken Bob, president of the progressive Zionist organization Ameinu, said that he had never seen WZC delegates walk out of a congress before. Nomi Colton-Max, a delegation leader from Ameinu and a vice president of the US-based American Zionist Movement (AZM), told Jewish Currents she organized the action with the help of Brothers-in-Arms and UnXeptable—Israeli groups that have been active in the country’s months-long protests against the planned judicial overhaul. Colton-Max said liberal and progressive WZC delegates like herself “wanted to say that diaspora Jews are also against this government. We wanted to say to the Zionist Congress, ‘You can’t ignore [the judicial overhaul] in your agenda.’”

This in-person session of the World Zionist Congress was a Covid-delayed event reflecting the election of delegates in 2020. Launched in Basil, Switzerland in 1897 by Theodor Herzl, the WZC is the legislative body of the World Zionist Organization (the WZO). During the British Mandate until Israel’s independence in 1948, the WZO exercised nominal authority over the Jewish Agency for Palestine, which functioned as an embryonic government for the Yishuv, the growing Jewish community there. After the birth of Israel as a state, both the WZO and the Jewish Agency (now the Jewish Agency for Israel) continued to exist, but with diminished capacity and a mix of functions very much in the shadow of Israel’s government. Still, as a largely elected body, the World Zionist Congress provides a forum that’s widely reflective of world Jewish opinion.

Ms. Goldberg’s article goes on to report that liberal delegates besieged MK Simcha Rothman, the chief legislative architect of the Netanyahu government’s radical judicial overhaul plan, inside the Jerusalem convention center, after he had arrived to confer privately with delegates from the Zionist Organization of America, a far-right contingent. Police had to be called to extricate him from the building. Probably fearing a similarly embarrassing brouhaha, Prime Minister Netanyahu cancelled his address at the General Assembly of the Jewish Federations of North America, which convened in Tel Aviv right after the WZC ended.

A right-wing “filibuster,” mentioned in the article, prevented progressive resolutions from being voted upon in the hall. But the window will be open for electronic voting by delegates from their home countries on May 21-23. These resolutions include: affirming the importance of Israel’s Declaration of Independence, with a special emphasis upon its liberal, democratic and inclusive character; defending the status of the judiciary as vital to the maintenance of checks & balances within Israel’s government; opposition to restrictive changes in the Law of Return which would challenge the legitimacy of non-Orthodox conversions to Judaism; and affirming the rights of all sexual orientations and gender identities.

Goldberg’s piece was a mostly sympathetic report on what transpired. The only discordant notes were two brief comments from Rabbi Alissa Wise of the Jewish Voice for Peace, who derided the significance of what happened at the Congress and questioned the value of anything having to do with Zionism.