This month I will be attending the World Zionist Congress (WZC) meeting in Jerusalem (October 20-23) as a delegate of the Association of Reform Zionists of America (ARZA), representing 1.4 million American Reform Jews from 900 Reform synagogues and communities nationwide.
Known as “The Parliament of the Jewish people” this will be the 37th meeting of the WZC since Theodor Herzl convened it for the first time in Basel, Switzerland in 1897. Though mandated by its constitution to meet every five years, for a number of reasons the WZC has not held elections since 2005, so this will be a meeting of some significance.
Given the challenges and changes taking place in the Jewish world today, the WZC will meet in the wake of Secretary of State Kerry’s failed Middle East peace efforts and following successful negotiations between the P5+1 nations and Iran to stop Iran’s nuclear weapons program.
In this upcoming WZC conference, 500 delegates representing the Jewish people world-wide will debate cutting-edge issues confronting the state of Israel and the Jewish people. The 500 delegates are chosen based on the following demographic formula: 38% are from Israel and are divided along Israeli political party lines as determined by the results of the last Israeli election earlier this year; 29% come from American Zionist organizations according to the last American Zionist Congress elections, also earlier this year, and the remaining 33% come from other countries of the Jewish Diaspora.
The American delegation is composed of 145 delegates out of the total of 500: ARZA (Reform movement = 56), Mercaz (Conservative Movement = 25), Religious Zionists (Orthodox AMIT, B’nei Akiva and RZA = 24), American Forum for Israel (Russian speaking Jews = 10), HATIKVAH (Progressive Zionists = 8), Zionist Organization of America (far right-wing Zionists 7), Zionist Spring (7), World Sephardic Organization (4), Alliance for New Zionist Vision (2), Green Israel (1), and Herut North America (1).
There is a natural alliance (though not yet formal) within the American delegation on many issues between ARZA (the largest vote-getter in the American Zionist election), Mercaz, HATIKVAH, and Green Israel for a majority of 87 of the 145 (60%). The Israeli delegation includes natural partners with ARZA and ARZENU (the international progressive/Reform Zionist movement) of representatives from the Labor-Zionist Union, Meretz, and Yesh Atid. Because ARZA was the largest vote-getter of the American delegation, we are in a position to chair a number of important committees and assure funding for projects benefiting Israel’s Reform movement (the Israel Movement for Progressive Judaism – IMPJ).
As goes the Jewish world, so too will those views be reflected in the WZC as a whole, and strong debate on virtually every issue is expected.
Resolutions will be presented, debated and voted upon on many cutting-edge issues including the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, settlement growth, Israel’s relationship with world Jewry and vice versa, the status of democracy and religious pluralism in Israel, egalitarian prayer at the Kotel (Western Wall), the religious rights of Israel’s non-Orthodox Jews, the rights of Israel’s LGBT community, and current Israeli policy concerning asylum seekers from Africa and Syria. Many of the resolutions to be presented originated with ARZENU, the International Federation of Reform and Progressive Religious Zionists.
Our ARZA delegation, in conjunction with ARZENU (as well as our natural allies in the Israeli and international delegations), is in a strong position to make a significant impact on the future of the World Zionist Organization, which means that we will be working hard to assure the continued growth of democracy, religious pluralism and diversity in the state of Israel for all its citizens, religious streams and those under its control (i.e. Palestinians living in East Jerusalem and the West Bank who are not Israeli citizens).
I will file reports from Jerusalem on this blog as the pre-conference deliberations with ARZENU begin on October 18, and upon the commencement of the WZC itself on October 20. Upon my return I will also file a longer report for The Los Angeles Jewish Journal.
For those who live in Los Angeles, I invite you to an early morning briefing at Temple Israel of Hollywood upon my return. We will meet on Wednesday morning (8-9 AM), October 28.
Note: To understand the mission and action statement of the Association of Reform Zionists of America, see the ARZA Website at http://www.ARZA.org and http://www.arza.org/about-us-our-mission. ARZA, as well as its parent body, the Union for Reform Judaism (URJ), supports a negotiated two-state final resolution of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict as being in Israel’s best interests as a Jewish and secure democratic state.