Shift in power in WZO elections from progressive Left to religious Right

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Two Orthodox slates in the elections for the 38th World Zionist Congress (WZC) took a third of all votes cast in the elections and emerged as clear winners in the ballot which will help determine the leadership of major Zionist institutions and the allocation of significant budgets in Israel.

The results of the election and the strong showing of the Orthodox and right-wing slates demonstrates a shift in power in the US delegates to the WZC, in which the progressive, left-wing bloc has fallen behind the Orthodox, religious right-wing bloc.

The two Orthodox groups that did so well were the Orthodox Israel Coalition – Mizrachi, the mainstream modern Orthodox and religious-Zionist slate, which took 21,698 votes, and Eretz Hakodesh that took 20,023 votes.

The Eretz Hakodesh slate is comprised of conservative religious-Zionist and some ultra-Orthodox candidates, and its platform did not use the words “Zionist” or “State of Israel.:

The slate also made a conspicuous appeal to ultra-Orthodox voters, assuring them that voting in the WZO elections did not make them Zionist.

The slate with the most votes was the Vote Reform list with 31,500 votes, representing 25 percent of the vote and an impressive increase over the 21,766 votes it took 2015, although a decline in its share of the vote which in 2015 was 38%.

Merkaz USA representing the US Conservative Movement took 14,666 seats giving it 10% of the vote, compared to the 17% of the vote it took in 2015.

The right-wing Zionist Organization of America Coalition, a slate affiliated with the Likud Party, received 10,313 votes, and the American Forum for Israel, previously associated with the Yisrael Beytenu Party, received 8,132 votes.

The left-wing, progressive Hatikvah slate boasting dovish delegates such as J-Street President Jeremy Ben Ami and frequent Israel critic Peter Beinart took 7,932 votes, while Shas Olami received 2,046.

Seven other slates received less than 2,000 votes each.

The Reform, Conservative and Hatikva slates took a combined 54,098 votes, while the Orthodox, and right-wing slates took more than 62,000 votes, ostensibly giving this bloc an advantage in the World Zionist Congress over the left-wing, progressive lists.

Although voting in the WZC elections requires voters to be committed to the Jerusalem Program adopted at the 23rd World Zionist Congress in 1951, Eretz Hakodesh sought to assure its voters that they did not need to be Zionist to vote for them.

The Eretz Hakodesh website posed several questions and answers to potential voters.

 “Am I now a Zionist? Is this something appropriate for me to get involved in?” asked one such question with the answer given “This is not something we want to do, it’s something we NEED to do.”

Continued the Eretz Hakodesh response “Participation in the elections is not an endorsement of anything the WZO was or is, adding, “More than any other segment of Klal Yisroel [the Jewish people], it is only Torah true Jewry that has never lost its love for Tzion [Zion].

Eretz Hakodesh’s website also bemoaned recent efforts to increase religious pluralism in Israel, saying that “elements from within American Jewry have infiltrated Israeli society and are spearheading a campaign to discredit much of what is sacred.”

The slate also complained that “young people are being invited to Yom Kippur events run by non-Orthodox Jewish clergy” and that women’s rights groups have sought greater access to the Western Wall for their prayer services.

“Are you ok with this?… If you’re not ok with this, then you NEED to VOTE!” it implored its voters.

The slate also received the endorsement of ultra-Orthodox rabbis including Rabbi Asher Weiss in Israel and Rabbi Elya Brundy, a member of the ultra-Orthodox Council of Torah Sages of Agudath Israel of America.

Agudath Yisrael has historically not been a Zionist movement, and the ultra-Orthodox Israeli political parties Agudat Yisrael and Degel Hatorah do not send delegates to the WZC.

The WZC is the elected body of the WZO, comprising 500 delegates from Israel and the Jewish world and elected every five years.

Its composition is a key factor in deciding the leadership of the so called-national institutions: the World Zionist Organization, the Jewish Agency for Israel, the Jewish National Fund, and Keren Hayesod — United Israel Appeal.