Spring 2014

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MERCAZ USA Newsletter — Spring 2014

Framework for Electing US Delegates Being Set

The countdown has begun! In eighteen months, in October, 2015, representatives of world Jewry – 190 from Israel, 145 from the United States and 165 from the rest of the world – will convene in Jerusalem for the 37th World Zionist Congress.

The four-day Congress, whose exact dates have not yet been set, will follow in the traditions of the First Zionist Congress that was convened by Theodore Herzl in the Swiss city of Basel in August, 1897. That first congress set in motion the wheels that ultimately led to the establishment of the State of Israel, a mere 50 years after the founding Swiss event. When world Jewry meets in 2015, the impact of the decisions taken will be felt for years to come.

But how are the delegates to this international parliament of the Jewish People chosen? While the World Zionist Organization requires that the delegates be selected by democratic means, it is up to every country to determine the procedures that will be employed. For example, the makeup of the Israeli delegation, which represents 38% of the total Congress, is based on the results of the most recent elections for the Knesset, with all parties elected to the Knesset that define themselves by their affirmation of the WZO’s Jerusalem Program as Zionist, ie, all except the Arab and the Ashkenazi Haredi parties, receiving two Congress representatives for every elected Member of Knesset.

In contrast, in countries with small Jewish populations that have less than ten representatives to the Congress, ie, most countries in Latin America and Europe, an arrangement may be concluded to divide up the limited number of places among different local Zionist groups.

It is in countries like Argentina, Australia, Canada, France and especially the United States, with delegations ranging in size from a dozen on up, where separate, unique Zionist elections will likely be conducted. Here in the United States, which sends the second largest group comprising 29% of the representatives to the Congress, elections have been a standard element in determining the makeup of our delegation. In the past 30 years, democratic elections have been held under the auspices of the American Zionist Movement four times: in 1987, 1997, 2002 and 2006. Only the congresses in 1992 and 2010 saw American delegations that were not chosen by democratic elections.

But while elections have been the standard means for electing American delegates, different models for determining who can vote have been employed in the past. For example, through the elections in 1987, anyone who was a member of a Zionist organization affiliated with the American Zionist Federation (now the American Zionist Movement) was qualified to vote. Since 1997, however, the rules were changed to disconnect organizational membership from voting, with the result that any American Jew was eligible to vote but had to first register to vote in order to receive a ballot.

The responsibility for determining the framework for selecting the American delegates to the 37th World Zionist Congress is up to the Area Election Committee, a body in which all American parties that participated in the last Zionist Congress have representatives. Since the WZO constitution does not dictate the procedures for elections, each election is governed by its own rules and is not bound by the decisions taken for previous votes. A decision for the 2015 World Zionist Congress is expected later this spring.







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