Reform wins plurality of U.S. vote for World Zionist Congress

Uriel Heilman

NEW YORK (JTA) – The Reform movement won a plurality of votes for American representation in the 37th World Zionist Congress.

Of the 145 seats allocated to Americans in the 500-representative body, approximately 70 percent went to religious denominations: Fifty-six seats went to the Reform movement’s ARZA faction, 25 went to the Conservative movement’s Mercaz faction and 24 to the modern Orthodox religious Zionist faction, known as Mizrachi.

The remaining American seats went to factions affiliated with the American Forum of Russian Speaking Jewry (10), progressive Zionists (8), the right-wing Zionist Organization of America (7), the young activist Alliance for a New Zionist Vision (7), and a smattering of smaller parties representing Sephardim, environmentalists, and others that captured the eight remaining seats.

The 190 delegates from Israel are allocated according to the latest Knesset elections, and the 165 delegates from the rest of the Jewish world are chosen in a variety of ways, including elections that are still underway.

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Founded by Theodor Herzl in 1897 to help bring about the establishment of a Jewish state, the World Zionist Congress is today a representative body that wields substantial control over three key institutions with significant assets at their disposal: Keren Kayemeth LeIsrael, or the Jewish National Fund, which owns some 13 percent of Israel’s land; the Jewish Agency for Israel, which deals with immigration and absorption, as well as Zionist education, and has a $475 million annual budget; and the World Zionist Organization. The congress helps formulate the organizations’ policies, appoints some of their leaders and has a say in how their money is spent.

“The World Zionist Congress is the single best opportunity for American Jews to have its voice heard on critical issues facing Israel and the Jewish People” Rabbi Vernon Kurtz, president of the American Zionist Movement, said in a statement after the vote tally was made public.

Votes for the American delegates were cast between January and April 30 of this year. In all, 56,737 votes were cast.