NEW YORK (Nov. 14)
Spokesmen for various organizations in the American Zionist Federation campaigned last night at a “Town Hall Meeting” for the election of member of their respective slates as American delegates to the World Zionist Congress in Jerusalem next Jan. About 200 Zionist activists attended the meeting at the Belmont Plaza Hotel. Most of them were middle aged, but there were some young people in the audience, The AZF had predicted an attendance of 500 people.
Thirteen national Zionist organizations and 10 youth student groups were represented in the seven slates vying for 55 percent of the places in the 152-member American delegation. Approximately 700,000 registered Zionists will be eligible to cast postal ballots next month to fill these delegate slots. The remaining 45 percent of the American delegation’s seats will be allocated on the basis of the current membership strength of the different American Zionist organizations. The Congress will be attended by some 500 delegates from around the world.
Speaking first last night, based on an order determined by random lot, Bernard Harkavy, chairman of the National Administrative Committee of the Americans for Progressive Israel-Hashomer Hatzair, said the United Socialist Zionist slate, comprising API-HH and the Radical Zionist Alliance, “stands for the democratization of the (American) Jewish community and the Zionist movement to assure grass-roots participation in decision-making, especially by youth and women.”
Harkavy said “We are committed to working for a Middle East where Israel and all nations live in peace within mutually agreed upon borders and where the rights of all people to self-determination are safe-guarded.” (After the meeting he said this includes Palestinians.) Harkavy tied this in with a desire for immediate peace in Indo-China. In Israel, he said, “we urge the elimination of the social and economic gap among various sectors,” and he urged support for the kibbutz movement as the epitome of the values espoused by his slate.
MILITANT ZIONISM NEEDED
Mrs. Bernice Salpeter, chairman of Hadassah Zionist Affairs, said her United Non-Party Zionists slate, comprising Hadassah, Bnai Zion and the American Jewish League, views the “polities of Israel as the business of the citizens of Israel and no diaspora group should have any connection with any political party in Israel.” Israel is a “sovereign country” and diaspora Jews have “no right to legislate for Israel or to suggest legislation for Israel,” she said. Mrs. Salpeter contended that associating with individual political parties in Israel “cannot help but divert energies” of American Zionist from aiding all the people of Israel regardless of political affiliation.
The Zionist Organization of America slate seeks to advance a “militant” revitalized Zionist movement in the US “without fear that we do not agree with the policies of our government,” according to Jacques Torczyner, former president of ZOA. Asserting that only “Zionism can insure the future of American Jewry” without being “blind to anti-Semitism,” he said Jewish education and consciousness in America must be strengthened and must include a strong Zionist orientation.
“Jews are only respected when they fight as Jews and build Jewish consciousness,” Torczyner said. He maintained that American Zionist groups have a right to express their views on Israel. “All Zionists belong together in one movement,” he noted, but, he added, “there is strength in diversity.”
Representing the Independent Student Zionists of America slate, a coalition of religious and secular students, Jonathan Braun, president of the N.Y. Union of Jewish Students, called for the “revitalization of Zionist thought,” including the “centrality of Israel and Jewish life” and the “democratization” of the Zionist movement. He said the Zionist movement must undergo “housecleaning” if it wants to attract American youth and Israel must similarly clean up its slums to fulfill its “prophetic vision of truth and justice. “Braun added that the student slate represents a “profound questioning” of all facets of Jewish life, including “bagels and lox” suburban Judaism and “checkbook Zionism.”
EROSION IN JEWISH IDENTITY
Jacob Katzman, general secretary of Farband-Labor Zionist Order, who spoke for the Labor Zionist Movement slate, also called for democratization of the Zionist movement. He said there must be a stronger articulation of the need to reorder the priorities of the Jewish community to advance “American Jewish life and its cultural, spiritual, Zionist content.” Katzman, as did the representatives of the USZ and the ZOA, called for the establishment of Zionist-inspired day schools.
Speaking for the Religious Zionist Movement slate, Rabbi Bernard Poupko, president of Mizrachi-Hapoel Hamizrachi, declared that although the Jews have survived “2,000 years without statehood,” they have “never been able to survive one century without Torah.” He noted that there is a “frightening erosion of Jewish identity in the US.” In Israel itself, Rabbi Poupko added, there is a “crisis of identity among substantial groups of young people.” He asserted that “Torah Judaism can achieve the maximum degree of unity.” But he noted that “the problem of halacha has been distorted.” and he emphasized that “Torah Judaism recognized that “newly developed conditions of life necessitate a realistic application of halacha.”
MORE UNITY THAN DIVISION
The United Zionists-Revisionists of America slate was advanced by Dr. Marnin Feinstein, a member of the National Executive of the United Zionist Revisionists. Feinstein accused the Labor, Socialist and Religious Zionists of being “schizophrenic,” whereas his group “is not split,” but “stands for a higher degree” of Zionism. “Our concern is for Israel before our concern for other aspects of living,” he said.
Dr. Feinstein called on Israel not to allow politics to creep into military matters as it has done. He claimed that “force is the greatest guarantee of peace” and he said “the no-retreat” is “a guarantee of security for Israel.” Dr. Feinstein disagreed with the “non-party approach” because he said, “the future of American Jewry is directly linked with Israel and more ways should be found to make that link,” including the identification with the various political positions of Israelis.
The meeting was generally conducted in a calm atmosphere of politeness. Rabbi Arthur Hertzberg, a member of the World Zionist Executive, chaired the meeting and concluded it with the observation that “more unites us as Zionists than divides us.” This “Town Hall Meeting” was one of 60 such gatherings being held around the country this month under the sponsorship of the AZF. Balloting, to be conducted by the American Arbitration Association, will begin upon receipt of ballots mailed to every enrolled Zionist in the US on Nov. 29.