By: Naftali Shavelson  | 

Rescuing the World Zionist Organization

In March, Peter Beinart wrote an article in The Guardian titled “Debunking the myth that anti-Zionism is antisemitic.” Now, he wants a seat in the World Zionist Congress.

Every five years, the WZO holds elections to determine the fate of almost $1 billion dollars to be spent on projects in Israel and the Diaspora. In practice, each body of elected representatives, therefore, allocates around $5 billion over the course of its term. For decades, this went smoothly. Various Jewish groups assembled slates and elected representatives to reflect their visions for Israel, focusing on matters important to them like Jewish education or religious pluralism. While they disagreed on nuances, members from Yitzhak Navon to Nathan Sharansky broadly agreed on fundamental Zionist principles such as Jewish determinism and a unified Jerusalem.

The WZO’s platform is expressed in the Jerusalem Program, a charter of sorts for the organization that outlines the concepts it holds dear. Its main value is “the centrality of the State of Israel and Jerusalem, its capital, in the life of the nation.” It also advocates for “strengthening Israel as a Jewish, Zionist and democratic state” and “ensuring the future and the distinctiveness of the Jewish people by furthering Jewish, Hebrew and Zionist education.” Finally, it calls for “settling the country as an expression of practical Zionism.”

It’s easy to take for granted that anyone running for a seat in the premier worldwide Zionist organization would support these principles. However, in this election cycle, several candidates who oppose them have thrown their hats into the ring. Hatikvah, a longtime marginal left-wing slate in the Congress with only a handful of seats, announced a swath of new candidates in an effort to broaden its appeal for 2020. Among them are Jeremy Ben-Ami, president of the liberal Middle East advocacy group J Street, and members of PeaceNow, a group that calls for the elimination of Jewish residence in Judea and Samaria.

The Hatikvah candidate with the strongest name recognition, though, is undeniably Peter Beinart. A frequent contributor to publications like The Forward and media outlets like CNN, he is well-known across the Jewish world and is sure to be the slate’s biggest draw. Unfortunately, he also has a history of defamation of the State of Israel and apologetics for anti-Semites. Before the most recent British election, he wrote regarding Jeremy Corbyn’s anti-Semitism that “If Corbyn weren’t passionate about Palestinian rights, he wouldn’t be under this much attack.” He is, of course, free to express his opinions, but they should not find a home in the WZC.

For the first time, the World Zionist Organization is under threat of takeover by people who want to cut Jerusalem in half and bankrupt families in Gush Etzion. Fortunately, you can do something about it. From January 21 through March 11, the WZO will hold its 38th elections. Americans can vote through the American Zionist Movement’s website ( and need only be 18 years old and Jewish residents of the United States. The cost to vote is $7.50, but only $5 for those 25 and under.

For the hundreds of Yeshiva University students who live in the tri-state area, and for others who live in solidly red or blue states, this is a far more consequential vote than your ballot for president in November. Here, your vote can make a real difference, and since it’s online, it’s the easiest one you’ll ever cast. In the last AZM elections, only 56,000 American Jews voted. If the YU student body does their part, they can be a significant voice for real Zionist values.

Now you know who not to vote for, but which group should you support? Because Jews can never agree on anything, there are a total of 13 slates running in the elections. The Orthodox Israel Coalition - Mizrachi and the Zionist Organization of America Coalition are great options that share YU’s vision of a strong, democratic and proudly Jewish Israel. YU is affiliated with the former. Ultimately, though, the choice is yours! Do your research and choose the slate that best reflects your Zionism and the Israel of tomorrow you’re most excited to see.

Photo Caption: The World Zionist Organization headquarters in Jerusalem
Photo Credit: Wikimedia Commons