Spring 2004

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MERCAZ USA Newsletter — Spring 2004

Bringing the Zionist Program into 21st Century

In 1897, Theodore Herzl convened the first Zionist Congress in Basle, Switzerland, and founded the World Zionist Organization, whose purpose was the establishment of a Jewish state. Now, more than 100 years later, MERCAZ USA is actively engaged in the effort to define a new Zionist program that will be relevant for the 21st century.

The centerpiece of the campaign to revitalize the Zionist Movement is a proposed "new Jerusalem Program" authored by MERCAZ' elected representative on the World Zionist Organization's Executive, Dr. David Breakstone, former Director of Ramah Programs in Israel and the current Head of the WZO Department of Zionist Activities in the Diaspora.

The Jewish Program, which was originally adopted in 1951 at the 23rd World Zionist Congress and later revised by the 27th Zionist Congress in 1968, is the set of ideals and principles on which all Zionists agree. In fact, as indicated on all membership forms, affiliation with MERCAZ USA and/or any other Zionist organization implies acceptance of the Jerusalem Program.

The first Jerusalem Program, composed three years after the founding of the Jewish State, defined the tasks of Zionism "[as] the consolidation of the State of Israel, the ingathering of exiles in Eretz Israel, and the fostering of the unity of the Jewish people."

Seventeen years later, following Israel's victory in the 1967 Six Day War, the Jerusalem Program was expanded to include attention to Jewish life in the Diaspora: "The preservation of the identity of the Jewish people through the fostering of Jewish, Hebrew and Zionist education and of Jewish spiritual and cultural values; [and] the protection of Jewish rights everywhere."

The proposed "Contemporary Zionist Platform," which was unanimously endorsed by MERCAZ delegates to the 2002 World Zionist Congress, begins: "Whereas the Zionist idea and the Zionist imperative have evolved over the years in response to changing circumstances in the Jewish world, and as these circumstances have changed significantly since 1968 when the platform of the Zionist movement was last revised . . . [and as] Zionism is the collective responsibility of the entire Jewish people for its own future and the future of the State of Israel as a Jewish and democratic state, [the] World Zionist Organization accordingly calls upon Jews everywhere to work for:

  1. The unity of the Jewish people and the centrality of Israel in Jewish life;

  2. The ingathering of the Jewish people in its historic homeland through aliyah from all countries;

  3. The strengthening of the State of Israel by providing economic, political, and moral support, and advocacy on its behalf;

  4. The engagement of Jews in Israel and the Diaspora in shaping Israel as an exemplary society (chevrat mofet) based on the prophetic vision of harmony, justice and peace;

  5. The forging of a Jewish national culture, anchored in the Jewish heritage, with Israel at its center;

  6. The preservation of Jewish identity through the fostering of Jewish, Hebrew, and Zionist education and the teaching of Jewish spiritual, moral and cultural values;

  7. The protection of the civil rights of Jews everywhere, and involvement in the struggle against both anti-Semitism and the derogation of Zionism. "As Dr. Breakstone noted, "MERCAZ can take great pride in having been the first to put forward a revised platform for the WZO that boldly redefines the contemporary Zionist challenge. It calls for the proactive 'engagement of Jews in Israel and the Diaspora in fashioning Israel as an exemplary society (chevrat mofet) based on the prophetic vision of social justice and the ideals of equality, tolerance, and the pursuit of peace,' in addition to the traditional planks concerned with strengthening the State of Israel, its centrality in Jewish life, aliyah, and Jewish Zionist education."

"What is new in the proposed Jerusalem Program is our concern to focus on the character of Israel's society, and not just Israel's security," said Rabbi Vernon Kurtz, MERCAZ USA President. "How does Israel function as a Jewish and democratic state? What should be the proper relations between Jews and Arabs, religious and secular, rich and poor - these questions should be part and parcel of the Zionist agenda for the 21st century. My thanks to our WZO representative David Breakstone for putting together a document that is infused with the values of Conservative Zionism. While the final version of the new Jerusalem Program that will be passed may have slightly different wording than that which MERCAZ submitted in 2002, the overwhelming consensus is that Zionism is as relevant today as it was in 1897, but its focus and message must change and evolve in accordance with the needs of the Jewish People."

In addition to adopting a revised Jerusalem Program, the WZO is expected to endorse a new constitution at the annual meeting of the Zionist General Council/Va'ad HaPoel in order to enable the organization to tackle more effectively the new Zionist agenda.


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