From the moment Theodor Herzl launched the political Zionism movement at the First Zionist Congress in Basel, Switzerland, in 1897, to the establishment of Israel in 1948, through the wars and triumphs that have marked Israel’s history, the Israel-diaspora relationship has been both unbreakable and fraught. Some Israeli leaders have sought and continue to seek a deep partnership between Israelis and Jews throughout the world. Others insist diaspora Jews should have little or no say in what goes on in Israel.
In fact, there is a distinct way that Jews here in America and other countries can exert their influence on Israeli society as well as the global Jewish agenda. Every five years, the World Zionist Congress (WZC) meets in Jerusalem to allocate an estimated $1 billion for various organizations and projects in Israel and around the world. The 38th meeting will be held in October, and diaspora Jews have a chance to vote for a slate of delegates that reflects their ideological and/or religious priorities.
Elections to the 500-delegate WZC, also known as the “Parliament of the Jewish People,” are scheduled to be held from Jan. 21 to March 11. Fourteen slates are running for the 145 seats set aside for American Jewry. The slates represent all the major denominations, as well as coalitions of Sephardic Jews, Jews of recent Russian origin, hawks, doves, and Israelis living abroad.
In addition to allocating funds, delegates will also have a say in selecting leadership positions in the key organizations of the Israel-diaspora partnership: the World Zionist Organization, the Jewish Agency for Israel, and Keren Kayemeth LeIsrael–Jewish National Fund.
Voting is online and easy. You need only be 18 years of age or older (as of June 30, 2020), be a permanent resident of the United States, and self-identify as Jewish. Voters must also sign the Jerusalem Program, a commitment to support Israel as a Jewish, Zionist, and democratic state. (Visit azm.org/elections.) The fee to register and vote is only $7.50, or $5 for those under the age of 50.
The World Zionist Congress is the only democratic forum for Jews around the world to have their views in Israel expressed, however indirectly. Whatever your issue — pluralism, security, Torah, peace — this is a chance to have your voice heard.