In American high anxiety reigns as we look forward to Election Day in less than two weeks, while in Israel leaders are now facing the consequences of an election that took place months ago. Right before the coronavirus shut down much of our normal life, the elections for the World Zionist Congress concluded weeks of online voting. The result was an increase in overall turnout and a victory for Orthodox parties in America.
This week the newly elected delegates to the Congress are meeting virtually to set the agenda for a number of important institutions in Israel and around the world. One third of the seats go to America, one third to the rest of the world, and one third to Israel. The American delegates are determined by the elections that concluded in March while the Israeli delegates are apportioned based on representation in the Knesset, Israel’s parliament. There are various methods of choosing the delegations from the rest of the world.
Usually, leadership positions in organizations like the Jewish Agency and the Jewish National Fund are distributed by consensus. The various Jewish groups understand that they need to be inclusive and allow many voices to participate in decision making. This year, however, right wing and Orthodox parties struck a deal to seize control over top posts at the expense of liberal and non-Orthodox factions.
While the leadership of the Reform and Conservative movements acknowledge that they must create space for the newly ascendant Orthodox groups, there is a fear that diaspora Jewry might continue a path of alienation if it sees a takeover of the Congress by parties who seek to delegitimize liberal Judaism. As a result, the left of center coalition sought to push off a vote on the new leadership.
In addition to the delegates determined by country, there are seats also reserved for Zionist organizations like Hadassah and Bnai Brith, but these participants have not voted for leadership positions in the past. This year, however, the Conservative and Reform movements urged them to exercise their right to vote in order to preserve the consensus of the past. The result was a delay in the vote to today, the final day of the Congress, and there are some indications that a more equitable compromise has been reached.
It’s not hard to draw comparisons between the politics at the World Zionist Congress and in America. Extreme partisanship has overwhelmed the desire for consensus while norms and traditions are pushed aside as groups struggle for power in the face of changing demographics. Elections are a crucial component in democracy, but they also lead to anxiety as we await the results and try to figure out how life will change as in the future. As the saying goes, “elections have consequences”, but at the same time democracy doesn’t end even when all the votes are counted. After the election may be when the real work begins.