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Listening last month to left-wing groups describe the increased charedi representation at the World Zionist Congress as a “hostile takeover” disappointed – but hardly surprised – me.
Even prior to the elections for this body – which meets every five years and has an annual budget of $1 billion – Mercaz USA (representing the Conservative movement) and ARZA (representing the Reform and Reconstructionist streams) derided charedim as “religious extremists and zealots” and depicted charedi participation in the World Zionist Congress elections as – ironically enough – “threatening…the basic tenets of democracy.”
Few anticipated that Eretz HaKodesh – a brand-new charedi American slate – would emerge as the third largest party after this year’s vote in March to determine the composition of the American delegation to the World Zionist Congress. But that outcome put a spotlight on the intolerance of the leaders of the aforementioned liberal movements.
Both Mercaz USA and ARZA filed complaints with the American Zionist Movement – which oversaw the elections – to ensure that charedi representation be reduced or entirely eliminated.
I work with Rabbi Pesach Lerner, chairman of Eretz HaKodesh, and was an alternate delegate on his slate, so he asked me to help defend it. Even while the election campaign was underway, ARZA complained that Eretz HaKodesh violated rules prohibiting “demeaning or denigrating” other slates for simply pointing out that ARZA’s progressive agenda conflicts with Torah values.
Coming from a slate whose own website refers to the “fundamentalist rigidity” of “the coercive and autocratic authority of the ultra-Orthodox establishment,” it was hard to take ARZA’s complaint seriously.
After the votes were counted, Mercaz USA asserted that the entire Eretz HaKodesh slate should be retroactively disqualified. Its pretense was that Eretz HaKodesh didn’t support the World Zionist Organization’s “Jerusalem Program” as required by the election rules, and that Eretz HaKodesh’s affirmation of it in May of 2019 was “false and knowingly deceptive.”
Of course, its real issue was Eretz HaKodesh’s surprising electoral success.
After all, Mercaz USA’s ally – ARZA – promoted its own “interpretation” of the Jerusalem Program during the election while the chair of the still further left-wing Hatikvah slate openly told prospective voters that the requirement to affirm the Program only meant “acknowledging that it is the platform of the WZO,” rather than actually supporting it. A double standard was clearly at work.
It didn’t stop there. Days after Mercaz received a powerful 38-page response from Eretz HaKodesh, demonstrating that its malevolent attempt to oust it was destined to fail, ARZA complained about Eretz Hakodesh’s purported “message” – namely, “that only their understanding of Judaism, ritual and observance is authentic and valid and that any other is completely invalid.”
ARZA made this claim repeatedly, but it was fabricated from whole cloth. Eretz Hakodesh never articulated any such “message.” Yet, it’s obvious what ARZA had in mind: Halacha is based upon the idea that there is a valid way to observe Judaism, which involves rules that Reform proudly discards.
Both liberal slates, in other words, attempted to disqualify Eretz HaKodesh for adhering to traditional Jewish beliefs. This, from movements that preach “tolerance” and “pluralism.”
This pattern of bias didn’t end when the (virtual) Congress began. Although over 70 resolutions and amendments were submitted by slates from around the world, only a small fraction of these were selected by left-wing executives (chosen after the previous Congress) to be considered in a single brief time slot.
One of them was a resolution designed to prevent Eretz HaKodesh or any other traditional slate from speaking about religious differences and their impact on the World Zionist Organization’s educational priorities – while permitting left-wing slates to continue to slander the Chief Rabbinate and observant communities not tied to a slate at the Congress.
And then, after a governing coalition was formed at the Congress that didn’t include them, the left erupted. The very slates that tried to disenfranchise Eretz HaKodesh and the charedi community entirely now demanded their “fair share,” regardless of the expressed will of the electorate. They called the results of coalition negotiations “unacceptable.”
In a letter to Prime Minister Netanyahu, 1,600 rabbis and members of Reform congregations called the coalition agreement “extreme” and said it would leave their Reform congregants – over 98 percent of whom did not vote in the election – “unrepresented” and “marginalized.” The Conservative movement threatened to leave the Congress.
At the end, charedim – whose strong support of Israel is unsurpassed, yet who were dismissed as irrelevant at previous sessions of the World Zionist Congress – will now receive their fair share of representation and funds designed to further the aims of the Jewish. Whether left-wing leaders will end their unfortunate campaign of incitement against Eretz HaKodesh remains to be seen.