By Heidi Schneider, former president of Masorti Foundation
While an exuberant Minneapolis delegation celebrated together Israel’s 75th anniversary, I had a parallel journey in Jerusalem as a delegate to the World Zionist Congress. As a delegate, I followed in the legendary footsteps of Theodor Herzl who convened the first World Zionist Congress in Basil, Switzerland in 1897. One hundred and twenty-six years later, the World Zionist Organization continues to be an important institution, a voice for Jews around the world. Crucially, the World Zionist Organization also governs how money is allocated by the Jewish Agency.
The work of being a World Zionist Congress delegate proved to me how important it is to engage with Israel on a political level. I tried to do my part as a voice for diaspora Jewry, voting to assure Israel’s future as a vibrant Jewish and democratic state at this pivotal moment in the country’s history.
I came to Israel as a delegate representing MERCAZ - the Zionist party of Masorti/Conservative Judaism. Our slate of delegates from the US, Canada, Latin America, and Europe came to Jerusalem prepared to vote on a series of resolutions that would make global Jewry’s voice heard loud and clear in favor of a pluralistic Jewish and democratic Israel. Together, we were determined to speak out for women’s rights and LGBTQ rights in Israel, for equal recognition of Conservative and Reform conversions, and to assure that diaspora Jews maintain their rights to immigrate to Israel. We also passed a resolution, objecting to the Knesset’s proposed judicial overhaul, intended to subjugate Israel’s Supreme Court to the will of the Knesset, a proposal that threatens an independent judiciary and Israel’s democratic future.
I witnessed a strong and well-organized coalition, in which MERCAZ, together with Reform, Yesh Atid, Labor, and others worked hard so that our resolutions to build a stronger Israel made it successfully through committees. When it came time for the 753-member plenary to vote on these pro-Israel resolutions, the ultra-Orthodox parties, who found themselves in the minority at the Congress, used a surprise procedural maneuver, attempting to stop the vote. But ultimately, they failed. The vote of the plenary will take place online in the coming weeks. Because of the power, influence, and coordination between MERCAZ and its partners and allies, our values will prevail. Israel’s government will receive a clear message from the representative body of Jews from around the world: Israel must remain a Jewish and democratic state and a home for every Jew.
Our success is made possible because of the strong and united voice that MERCAZ and its allies have in the World Zionist Congress. At this critical moment in Israel’s history, it is essential that diaspora Jews work together to strengthen our representation in the next World Zionist Congress in 2025. If we fail to organize, extremist parties will assure their delegates outnumber ours. Their voices will drown out the values held by a majority of the world’s Jews. Further, they will gain control of the allocation of monies collected by the Jewish Agency, and they will direct those monies toward their own institutions and their restrictive priorities. I know that most of us are Jews who care about Israel’s future as a vibrant Jewish and democratic state. We are pained when our Jewish values and interests at put at risk by minority factions.
At the Congress, I had a first-hand look at the battle for Israel’s democracy that has overtaken the country in recent months. I was proud to stand with Jews from Israel and around the world, from all backgrounds, as we protested against the architects of the so-called “judicial overhaul.” From its very founding by Theodor Herzl, the Zionist Movement has been a political movement. Israelis are making their voices heard in peaceful demonstrations on city streets every
Saturday night. Minnesota Jews can exercise our rights by voting for representatives who will carry our voice, our values, and our interests to the World Zionist Congress, where Jews from all over the world make an impact on Israeli and diaspora Jews alike.
Today, Israel is faced with an internal challenge, distinct from others in the country’s history. And as Jews living outside of Israel, we share our concerns about preserving democratic norms in the Israel we love. We watch as Israelis take their battle for a pluralistic and democratic Israel to the streets. We may wonder: what can we do to support them? We are supporting them with our votes in favor of the pro-democratic and pluralistic resolutions passed by the committees at the recent World Zionist Congress in Jerusalem. And we can continue to support Israelis by strengthening our voices and increasing our representation in the World Zionist Congress in the next WZO election in 2025.