Social media users, since January 21, might have noticed friends sharing links about the World Zionist Organization (WZO) election, held once every five years. The vote is open for 50 days, until Shushan Purim.
American Jews are being urged to vote in higher numbers than ever before to ensure that their perspectives are included when this “parliament of the Jewish people” convenes this coming October. During this parliamentary session, billions of dollars are distributed to worldwide Jewish institutions. If you are a Jew who can distinguish between the advocacy efforts of J-Street and AIPAC, for example, you likely know what’s at stake and should make the effort to vote in this election.
Choosing the 152 U.S. delegates out of a total of 500 is the primary opportunity for Jews living in America to impact major decisions being made in Israel. American Jewry, in essence, has the swing vote in this election, sort of like California’s 55 votes out of 435 in the U.S. Electoral College.
Mizrachi, the global religious Zionist movement, works to spread torat Eretz Yisrael across the world, with the aim of strengthening the bond between the international Jewish community and the State of Israel. Based in Jerusalem and with branches across the globe, Mizrachi—an acronym for merkaz ruchani (spiritual center)—was founded in 1902.
Mizrachi is one of nine organizations comprising “slate 4,” the OIC—Orthodox Israel Coalition—and is competing for influence to control how Israel allocates funding to Jewish education and communal needs in the Diaspora. This is funding that goes to Masa’s program for yeshiva/seminary program scholarships, funding for security of American Jewish institutions, Orthodox-affiliated day schools, and for recruiting and training shlichim (emissaries) and bnot Sherut (young Israeli women performing national service) to American communities.
Mizrachi’s chief executive today is Rav Doron Perez, who made aliyah from South Africa at the age of 18. A baal teshuva heavily influenced by his experience in the Bnei Akiva youth movement programs in Johannesburg, Rav Perez told The Jewish Link about the changing landscape of Jewish advocacy between 1948 and now. “For the first 70 years of the State of Israel, ‘the State of Israel’ was the project of the Jewish people. For the next 70 years, ‘the Jewish people’ needs to be the project of Israel.” He added that now that half the population of the world’s Jews live in Israel, the effort toward Jewish advocacy has turned outward, and seeks preservation of the Zionist ideal.
“Our job is not to give mussar to people to make aliyah but to spread the message of torat Eretz Yisrael, and invigorate and inspire them to further their values. The Zionist component is a component of the impact of the Mizrachi Relgious Zionist commitment, but it’s not all of it,” he explained.
“OIC together is a coalition of the mainstream/Modern Orthodox institutions in Israel. We are bringing ourselves together to ensure that the whole is more than the sum of its parts,” said Rav Perez. OIC includes the Religious Zionists of America-Mizrachi, AMIT, the Orthodox Union, Yeshiva University, Touro College, Bnei Akiva, Torah MiTzion, National Council of Young Israel, and the Rabbinical Council of America.
Rav Perez in particularly concerned about the voices running among the 15 slates in the election who are representing what he calls “the progressive-Zionist narrative,” and includes the Hatikva slate, which is comprised of 14 ultra-progressive American Jewish organizations advocated by Jeremy Ben-Ami, the founder of J-Street, and Peter Beinart, the liberal newspaper columnist. They advocate for progressivism, “anti-occupationism” and employ constant public criticism of Israel and its policies toward Palestinians. The slate also includes representatives of the New Israel Fund. One of their primary stated objectives, according to Ha’aretz, is to block settlement building in the West Bank.
“The demonizing of Israel and denying Jews collective rights that citizens of every other nation has” is a voice within this Zionist election that Rav Perez sees as a threat to Jews everywhere. “I am concerned that the progressive Zionist movement and radical movements so overtly critical of Israeli politics in public forums [have been very destructive to American Jewry, for example,] taking something like AIPAC, which is an outstanding bipartisan organization and are aiming to make it into something divisive.
“Their work is subversive, it is not part of the mainstream Zionist election process, but it is so overtly critical in ways that are so damaging of Israel. It is very concerning and a grave, enormous concern to our raison d’etre. Israel may not be perfect, no country is, but constant criticism compromises any relationship built on mutual love, concern and camaraderie,” said Rav Perez.
“We need to love all Jews and live together with all Jews, but with any election there is often a radical element that unites the others,” Rav Perez noted. He sees the other slates, including two Sephardi communities, the American Conservative and Reform movements and other haredi slates, as sharing a few basic perpectives as Zionists, but that if the slate representing the progressive Zionist narrative gets in at all they will be deeply damaging to all the others.
Rav Perez noted, however, that five years ago there was more apathy present in the American voting. About 56,000 people voted, with around 20% for Mizrachi. “There is a greater peak of interest this time, because if we want our people and our perspective to be heard, success for us will not just be the people who vote, it will be the proportion of people who vote. Success for me would mean if we could get 30 to 40% of the vote,” he said. In this way, he intimated, the presence of the progressive Zionist slate could wake people up and encourage them to vote for an unapologetic Zionist voice.
“There is a per voter fee of $5.00 for those 18-25, and $7.50 for voters age 26 and above, but this is so important because it has the potential to impact a billion dollars available to our community and the causes we care about,” Rav Perez added. Learn more and vote at this link: https://azm.org/elections.
By Elizabeth Kratz