The Emperor's New Clothes: "Election - The World Zionist Congress"
by Gad Nahshon
Once upon a time in America there was a Zionist dynamic, vivid, creative, dominant, Zionist movement. But today, it almost vanished. There are many organizations that still exist but they have many 'chiefs' and few 'Indians.' It is a movement without dynamics, without young generations, with a soul. But every four years, like the phoenix in a very low key, America learns about: "Election to the World Zionist Congress" in Jerusalem. Suddenly, 'Zionists' have a chance to vote! The process is electronic. It is a show. It is very democratic. Suddenly you learn about the existence of Zionists in America.
It is important to note that for many years, Jews here said: "We are Zionists." Even A.D.L. is a Zionist organization, a pro-Israeli one. So, recently, an election took place quietly. And, suddenly, we learn the results. As we expected, less people voted. Less people registered as Zionists. We do believe that this reflects the erosion in the status of Israel inside the American Jewish community. The election did not promote a wave of life and activity in the Zionist movement in America. It did not cause a new change, a new movement, a new debate about Zionism in America. It shows the anachronistic face of this great movement which was lead by great personalities such as Abba Hillel Silver or Emanuel Newman, to mention a few.
It is a movement without a soul, without life. Therefore, only 88, 753 Zionists participated in this secret election! They elected 145 American delegates to the World Zionist Congress. In 1997, 107, 832 Zionists sent in their ballots. Eleven parties or slates participated. The results: ARZA (Reform Zionist Movement: 37, 492 and 61 delegates (42.24%) Mercaz (The conservative Zionist movement) 19, 787 and 32 delegates (22.29%). The surprise: the religious Zionist movement, 17, 952, 29 delegates (20.23%)! This movement doubles its power (1997 - 11,664 votes, 10.8%). It is a great success for the Orthodox in America.
Results of other parties: Herut-U.S.A. only 1903 votes, 3 delegates (2.14%), and Meretz-U.S.A. 3,517, 6 delegates (3.96%). This small pro-left party did not lose much support: in 1997, 4,810 or 4.5% of the total votes. In Israel, the left is losing ground. In America, the pro-left supporters did not reflect the situation in Israel. There are few Zionist parties in America. It is not clear why they exist, why they do not unite. Bnai-Zion: 1,023 votes, 2 delegates, Z.O.A. 2,720 votes, 5 delegates, 3.05% Zionist coalition-Likud (Bibi Netanyahu's party?) 1,061 votes, 2 delegates, 1.20%. The old Labor Zionist party - 1,881 votes, 3 delegates, 2.2%. And in Baltimore, there is a local Zionist party, 795 votes.
As in 1997, ARZA and Mercaz control the American Zionist Movement together: 64.53%! In 1997: ARZA 47% (51,469), Mercaz 26% (28,001). Together then: 74%. Indeed, together they lost 10%! I should note that these movements have access to voters throughout their synagogues. Zionism in America is getting more religious (keep in mind the success of the Orthodox, a dynamic denomination in America). It is possible that many Zionists did not vote as an act of protest to Israel's refusal to accept the American-Jewish idea of pluralism: equality to all of the religious movements inside Israel, a protest of Israel's discriminations as to the issue of 'who is a Jew.'
But Zionism is almost dead in America. Out of 5 or 6 million Jews, only about 100,000 bothered to define themselves as Zionists. The trend is negative, a decline of Zionism even compared to 1997 results. Indeed, we need a Zionist revolution in America and we should be encouraged by the unprecedented huge pro-Israel demonstration which took place on April 15, 2002: 100,000 demonstrators came to express their great solidarity with Israel, the epitome of Zionism in our tie. From this vantage point we can conclude that Zionism in America is not dead yet.
Israel is still living in the heart of many Jews and gentiles alike. But we must dismantle the deep apathy and resentments which took place here for the last twenty years. We must outreach the young Jewish generations. We must rekindle the spark. In 1997, 149, 371 people registered but only 107,832 (72.19%) voted. Today, 112,292 registered but only 88.75% voted. The world Zionist Congress, the 34th one, will convene in Jerusalem in July. (The 1st one: Basel, Aug. 21, 1897, chaired by Benjamin Herzl). The Zionist movement in this country must achieve unity. The division is too much for a small movement. This unusual unity was expressed at the last April 15, 2002 rally in Washington D.C. It was our 'Rainbow Coalition.'
The election process was organized by A.Z.M. American Zionist Movement in New York. The process took place from Feb. 27 to April 6, 2002 (registration plus a fee, voting electronically or by paper ballot), 11 slates (parties) did participate. Among the more well known candidates are: Marlene Post, Dr. Jonathan Schorsch, Dr. Ismar Schorsch, Dr. Rabbi Normal Lammor, Rabbi Zevulun Charlop, Shoshana Cardin, Seymour D. Reich, Congressman Ben Cardin, Ruth Messinger, Theodor Bikel, Rabbi Eric Yoffie, Rabbi Amiel Hirsch, Rabbi David Saperstein, J. Philip Rosen, Rebbetzin Esther Jungreis, Jose Nissim, Morton Klein, Kenny Bialkin, Harry Taubenfeld and Prof. Jeffrey V. Mallow. It is not clear if issues such as 'who is a Jew' will be discussed in Jerusalem. The timing is bad. Israel yearns for expression of love and support. Also financially, from the Diaspora's Zionists. The message is: we are one!
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