The 37th World Zionist Congress – Tam V’Lo Nishlam

Categories: Letters from the Leadership

The Hebrew expression “tam v’lo nishlam,” done but not complete, is a very fitting description of the experience of the Ameinu delegation to the World Zionist Congress. While we had our share of accomplishments, there is also much work to be done as we build on the events of our week together in Israel.

To set the context, Our 18 person Ameinu delegation, with representation from the U.S., Canada and Australia, in addition to Ameinu members, included representatives from Habonim Dror North America and Australia, as well as J Street and J Street U members from our U.S. Hatikvah slate. Together with Labor Zionist affiliated groups from countries around the world as well as the Israel Labor Party, we constitute the global Brit Etz – Brit Avodah Tzionit (the World Labor Zionist Alliance.) Immediately before the Congress, the Brit Etz Convention convened to hear reports on Diaspora activity, meet with MK Labor Party Chair Isaac Herzog and party General Secretary General MK Hilik Bar, discuss resolutions that were to be presented at the Congress and to elect our Labor Zionist representatives for the next five years to the various National Institutions. These include the World Zionist Organization (WZO), Jewish Agency, the Karen Kayemet L’Yisrael-Jewish National Fund (KK”L) and Keren Hayesod.

There has been some misinformation in the press and the blogosphere about the governance of the National Institutions. For decades (I don’t actually know how long), a wall to wall coalition has been constructed. In other words, every group that participates in the Congress joins the coalition. Although Israeli newspapers have reveled in reporting on secret back room political deals to allocate both paid and volunteer positions in all of the entities, this is more or less the way it has been done for years. Each group appoints a negotiating team, the wrangling takes place and an agreement is reached, in this case, very close to the opening of the Congress.

For the purposes of this blog post, I am only going to focus on the positions allocated to Brit Etz, especially the World Chair of KK”L. This was a hotly contested affair between the incumbent Efi Stensler, MK Danny Atar, Yerucham Mayor Michael Biton and MK Nachman Shai, who dropped out shortly before the vote. There was intense campaigning for the position, and the diaspora votes were a significant percentage of the electorate. As a result, we put together a last minute “candidate forum” and all three remaining candidates shared their views and plans for the agency. Danny Atar was elected to the post and will be resigning his Knesset seat to move to the new position. The other salaried position allocated to Brit Etz as a result of the coalition agreement is the head of the WZO Education Department. Silvio Joskovitz, the former director of World Habonim Dror, was elected in a three way race to the position.

Special congratulations to Judy Gelman, Ameinu Vice President, who was elected to the WZO Expanded Executive, which meets three times a year and plays important strategic and oversight roles. The Zionist General Council (Va’ad Hapoel) meets annually and is the governing body between Congresses. Since our North American representative, Judy, was elected to a senior position, we graciously deferred on Zionist General Council delegate diaspora representation to other countries, and Sara Zebowitz, mazkira (national director) of Habonim Dror North America, was selected as an alternate.

As we moved from the Brit Etz Convention to the World Zionist Congress, we received some good news. The Green Israel list, which won one seat in the U.S. Zionist elections, accepted Ameinu’s invitation to join Brit Etz for the next five years.

At the Congress we joined with Arzeinu (Reform Zionists) and the World Union of Meretz to constitute the largest caucus at the Congress, numbering 182 delegates. Caucusing early every morning before the formal Congress program, we began coordinating positions, preparing for committee work and then organizing for the final plenum that addressed the resolutions. Our Ameinu delegation was in the middle of the action, serving as vote “whips” at committees and in the plenum, ensuring that all of our delegates were up-to-date and aware of our caucus positions on the various resolutions. While the total number of possible delegates is over 700 per the WZO constitution, no more than 550 were actually around for the voting, but we still needed to build coalitions with the centrist groups to ensure passage of our resolutions.

Before the voting on resolutions, however, there were a number of plenums on topics of interest and speeches from leading politicians. Most of you probably already heard about Prime Minister Netanyahu’s outrageous claim that it was the Mufti of Jerusalem who convinced Hitler to exterminate the Jews. We were “lucky” to hear it first hand at the opening session of the Congress, along with the rest of his uninspiring “the world is against us” stump speech. Leader of the Opposition MK Isaac Herzog, whom I was honored to introduce, had the opportunity the next day to open the day’s program. He began with a correction of Netanyahu’s revisionist history and then presented an alternate vision of Israel, one that rejects what he called a “Masada complex” and includes a just Israel for all of its citizens and at peace with its neighbors.

On the last afternoon, the Congress turned its attention to the 91 resolutions that had been debated in committees and processed through the Resolutions Committee. One of Ameinu’s top priority resolutions, calling for financial transparency in all of the National Institutions, passed almost unanimously. Many other resolutions which we had either submitted ourselves or drafted by our partners were passed with a majority of delegates by worked with our centrist colleagues. The entire text of all resolutions passed by the Congress can be read here. Highlights include:
• Reaffirming the Declaration of Independence’s vision of an Israel committed to the values of democracy and equal rights for all inhabitants, along with the development of educational programming in this area.
• Condemnation of hate crimes committed in the name of Zionism in light of the “price tag” violence carried out by Jewish terrorists.
• Support for the LGBT community, including enforcement of complete equality within the National Institutions.
• Support for building of an egalitarian prayer space at the Western Wall.
• Calling on the National Institutions to address their own carbon footprint and take other climate action plan steps.
• Instructing our representatives in the KK”L to prevent projects that negatively impact Israel’s water resource.
• Support for Zionist youth movement shlichim (emissaries).
• A call to transition contract workers to employees with full benefits in the national institutions.
All in all, an impressive list of successful resolutions, one that reflects our progressive Zionist values.

Due to bad allocation of time by the Congress schedulers and malfunctioning of electronic voting devices, the Congress only got through half of the resolutions. The Zionist General Council will take up the rest of the resolutions, likely in June, so stay tuned for additional results on the resolution front.

So as I wrote at the beginning of this blog post, the job has not been completed, both in the passing of the resolutions and their implementation. Some of the resolutions are more declarative, expressing the collective opinion of the gathering than, than they are operational. I am happy to report, though, that a first step has already been made on the transparency front due to our close partnership with MK Stav Shaffir, the chair of the newly formed Knesset Transparency Committee. At the first committee meeting after the Congress she invited representatives of all of the National Institutions to present their plans on this topic. New KK”L chair Atar pledged full cooperation with the committee and the process. MK Shaffir reports that there was one body that continues to be problematic. As expected, it is the Settlement Division of the WZO, so there is a lot of work to do in this area. We will regularly be contacting our representatives in the various bodies to push on this and other issues.

You can find the full list of Resolutions here: Plenary of the Zionist Congress XXXVII – Adopted Resolutions Final

About Kenneth Bob, National President

Kenneth Bob is the National President of Ameinu. He is a member of the Jewish Agency for Israel Board of Governors,  the treasurer of Board of Directors of J Street and a board member of the Forward Association. Ken is a past chair of the Habonim Dror Foundation, the national alumni association of the Labor Zionist youth movement, providing financial support for their educational programming throughout North America. In his professional life, Ken is an experienced entrepreneur and currently provides management consulting for small and merging companies.
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