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You Can Still Vote in Elections for Israel’s (Secret) Government

By David Krantz

 

NEW YORK (March 30, 2015) — Elections for Israel’s state government may be over, but the elections for Israel’s secret government are ongoing. Although most don’t know about it, every Jew in the world is eligible to vote for the World Zionist Congress, Israel’s little-known and poorly understood shadow parliament. And it’s been around longer than the state of Israel itself.

Set up in the 1800s by Theodor Herzl, the father of modern Zionism, the World Zionist Congress was Israel’s prestate parliament in a similar way to how the Palestinian Authority today is the prestate government for a future state of Palestine (although Netanyahu may delay that a bit). But the World Zionist Congress has stuck around in spite of the formation of the modern Israeli state — because David Ben-Gurion and other early Israeli leaders recognized that the World Zionist Congress offered something that the state government’s Knesset didn’t: a Diaspora voice in Israeli politics.

Admittedly, the World Zionist Congress’s secrecy, combined with its archaic name, makes it sound like something from the archetypical anti-Semitic screed, "The Elders of the Protocols of Zion." The World Zionist Congress doesn’t control the world like the Jews of that myth, but its influence is still substantial as far as Israeli policy is concerned. As the legislative body of the World Zionist Organization, the World Zionist Congress controls about 14 percent of the land in Israel, largely through the WZO’s subsidiary, Keren Kayamet L’Yisrael, the Jewish National Fund (JNF) in Israel.

Through the WZO’s other large subsidiary, the Jewish Agency for Israel, the World Zionist Congress also has a large say in Israeli immigration policy and Diaspora relations.

Even though JNF in Israel — which, despite the identical name, is a separate legal entity from JNF in the United States — is the de-facto national forestry service of Israel, much of its land is actually developed. Whole communities are built on JNF land. And who gets to live there — Only Jews? Or everyone regardless of religion and ethnicity? — ultimately is decided by the World Zionist Congress. Want to stop JNF’s bulldozing of Bedouin villages in Israel’s Negev desert? Want to stop the eviction of Palestinians from their homes in the parts of Jerusalem claimed by Palestinians as their future capital? The paths to change go through the World Zionist Congress, which controls the organizations that own the land in question.

The brilliant aspect of the World Zionist Congress is that it’s democratic. The delegates at the Congress are elected by Jews around the world. (As to who is a Jew, the answer, at least for the purposes of voting, is whoever self-identifies as Jewish.)

The all-volunteer New York-based nonprofit that I run, Aytzim: Ecological Judaism, founded in 2001 as the Green Zionist Alliance, has passed seven laws at the Congress. And, with only one-to-three delegates every election cycle, we still have been able to use our position at the table to appoint our own members to the board of JNF in Israel and designating new nature preserves, quadruple the number of trees planted, and establish hundreds of miles of bike trails throughout the country. Guided by Herzl’s vision of creating Israel as a model state, we’ve also used our participation at the Congress to get JNF in Israel to build an eco-village for non-Jewish Africans in Rwanda, and to get JNF in Israel to participate annually in the United Nations’ climate-change talks.

But the Zionist system, like our own American democracy, works best when people vote. And people largely don’t vote because they don’t know the system exists. In the last elections, for example, of the estimated six-to-eight million Jews in the United States, only tens of thousands voted. Just as U.S. elections are by state, Zionist elections are by country, and U.S. Zionist elections started in January and are ongoing through the end of April. Any self-identifying American Jew at least 18 years of age can vote, with instructions at myvoteourisrael.com. Of course, the more people that vote for Aytzim’s Green Israel slate, the greater capability we will have of working toward an environmentally sustainable and peaceful Israel. But the key is still for people to vote. Whether or not we realize it, our stake as American Jews in Israeli politics isn’t just as observers and commentators. We can vote.




 

David Krantz is the president and chairperson of the Aytzim: Ecological Judaism.

 

 

 

Eco-Quote

"Creation, all of Creation, was pervaded with dignity and purpose and embodied God's meaning."

- Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel

Did You Know?

Lions, cheetahs, Anatolian leopards and brown bears were indigenous to the land of Israel but from medieval times into the 1980s they were hunted to local extinction.



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