Should American Reform Jews care about the outcome of impending Israeli national elections?

The simple answer is yes, but the reasons are more involved and the process of our involvement a bit arcane.

Politics is the only contact sport in Israel. Our movement is a non partisan player in that game through our Israel Reform Movement and ARZA as part of the WZO. We want the Government of Israel to support our values just as we support their security and sovereignty. Yes, we care who governs Israel and so we care about their elections as well.

ARZA and our Movement access the public square in Israel in many ways. The organizational path is through the World Zionist Organization (WZO) founded by Theodore Herzl in 1896. It created several working subsidiaries including the Jewish National Fund (JNF) and the Jewish Agency for Israel (JAFI).

The WZO is made up of various siot, coalitions. Our siah is called ARZENU and serves as the umbrella for ARZA groups around the world. ARZA USA holds 51% of the votes within ARZENU. ARZENU is the single largest siah within the WZO. We, like other siot, form larger coalitions of mutual interest within the WZO, similar to a parliamentary system of government. Some siot represent Israeli political parties working inside WZO.

Every four or five years, all Zionist groups around the world participate in local country elections to determine which groups shall have the largest representation at the WZO Congress. When Israelis vote in national elections, they are simultaneously voting for delegates to represent them in the WZO, a fact not realized by most Israelis.

For 34 years, our American Reform Movement has been represented in the World Zionist Organization (WZO) by ARZA. ARZA is the single largest member of the ARZENU siah due to the support of the URJ and members of URJ congregations. The WZO is a 50/50 partner with the Jewish Agency for Israel (JAFI) and thus holds 50% of the seats on the JAFI Board. JAFI receives funds from local federation and Jewish communities worldwide and ARZA holds several seats on the JAFI Board. JAFI provides funds for our Israel Reform Movement. Even with diminished funding our Israel Reform Movement depends on this funding for many programs.

ARZA is a member, within the WZO, of a coalition of siot. Our coalition at present includes both the Labor and Meretz parties. Through these and other contacts ARZA has access to the Israeli government, members of Knesset and decision makers in the country. This access is very important in support of our Israel Reform Movement, and representing American Jews on issues such as conversion legislation in the Knesset with which we sometimes disagree.

Our American Reform movement does not generally take positions on matters related to Israeli defense issues. We are on record as supporting a two state solution with the Palestinians; A secure Jewish State of Israel and a sovereign Palestinian State, living side by side in peace with Israel.

We do take positions on those matters that could affect the future unity of the Jewish people. We believe that Jewish pluralism and a variety of ways to participate religiously within our people should be the norm. We believe in gender equality. We believe in full civil rights for all citizens of Israel regardless of their origins or life style choices. These are Jewish issues not just Israeli issues. All governments have laws and norms of practice on these matters. We want to insure that we have a voice in all “Jewish issues” upon which a state must make decisions. Through our ARZA voice in the WZO representing our American Reform Movement and through helping to grow an ever more vibrant and vital Israeli Reform Movement, we are standing for our principles. Yes, elections matter.

We have a stake in Israel elections, an important stake. Just as Israeli’s watch American politics because they realize that the American-Israeli relationship is vital to their interests and can be affected by elections, so we have a similar interest. The relationship between Israel and America is impacted by Israeli elections. It is also an opportunity to foster the growth of our movement in Israel, and engagement with Israel by our American Reform movement. Yes, Israel elections matter!!!!

Originally published in Ten Minutes of Torah

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Rabbi Daniel Allen

About Rabbi Daniel Allen

Rabbi Daniel R. Allen is the Executive Director of ARZA, and has served as the CEO of the American Friends of Magen David Adom and the United Israel Appeal. Allen is considered a leading expert on Israel and American Jewish Philanthropy.

3 Responses to “Should American Reform Jews care about the outcome of impending Israeli national elections?”

  1. avatar

    Rabbi Allen:

    Thank you for the food for thought for shabbos tomorrow.

    In 1948, working for the JNF in Manhattan, I helped to dispatch wounded Israeli military and Golda Meir on the cross country (USA) mission that involved American Jews with the tiny struggling nation for all time. As I was nineteen years old and dateable, I heard many stories of the events from the Israelis first hand, and came to respect both the newborn nation and its tough and resilient people.

    The mission resulted in aliyah, both temporary and permanent for many American Jews; and for the heartfelt practice of financial support for other American Jews.

    But we cannot allow our diaspora funding to purchase actions of the people who live in Israel through lobbying the Knesset and other such means. In my view the only place we have a say is in the actual use of our money, not in running the country.

    That is for those who live there to do.

  2. avatar

    This is a very informative piece, but I have to take exception with one point. You say “We believe in gender equality. We believe in full civil rights for all citizens of Israel regardless of their origins or life style choices.”

    I suspect that you are including members of the gay and lesbian community (and others) in this, but I almost hope you weren’t. Being gay, etc. is NOT a “life style choice” and should not be referred to in this way.

  3. Larry Kaufman

    When we kol yisraek arevim zeh lazeh, all Israel are responsible one for the other, we refer to the broad concept of the Children of Israel, not the narrower idea of the State or citizens of Israel.

    We should not only care, but should express our concerns, about the political scene in Israel — because we not only have responsibilities to Israel, the state and its people, but we have to remind them that what they do has an impact on the lives of Jews outside the state.

    As an example, the hegemony of the (minority) Orthodox in Israel lends credibility to the efforts of Orthodox groups on Europe and elsewhere to deny equal treatment to liberal congregations, as is happening currently in Austria, Hungary, and recurrently in Germany.

    Issues like the settlements are exploited to stimulate not only anti-Zionism but even anti-semitism in this country, especially on our college campuses. When Bibi is seen to be spitting in the eye of the USA, even if he thinks he is acting in the interests of his own state and its citizens (at least, those of its citizens that he cares about), the message that is sent is that he is unconcerned about the fall-out in America, not only in terms of political opinion in general, but also in the bond between North American Jews and Israel.

    When statehood for Israel was only a dream, we were taught that having a Jewish state would enhance the security of those Jews who chose to remain where they were. Certainly in these last 64 years, we have seen a significant erosion if not eradication of mainstream social and commercial anti-semitism in the U.S. — whether caused by having a Jewish state or coincidental.

    Kol yisrael arevim zeh lazeh is not a one-way street, and just as Israelis feel free to express their opinions about the political scene here, certainly we have a similar freedom — to care, to speak, and to fund those activities that are supportive of the welfare of both communities.

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