JERUSALEM (Aug. 9)
While Zionist leaders and officials expend much energy and many decibels debating the rights and wrongs of waiving democratic elections for the forthcoming World Zionist Congress, activists and rank-and-filers around the world are quietly but diligently proceeding with the effort which must precede elections wherever they are held, and which is a vital function of the Zionist movement every four years: the membership drive.
“We want to know who is with us–not just the vague sympathizers, but those prepared to stand up and be counted,” explains Yeshayahu Haran, Director General of the WZO Organization and Information Department, and the man who heads up the membership drive. The drive, he continues, is a “show of force” demonstrating the strength of the Zionist movement.
During the last drive, before the 28th Congress in 1972, some 900,000 Jews in 29 diaspora countries registered as members of the Zionist movement, pledging allegiance to the “Jerusalem Program” and paying their dues to their national federation. “We are certainly not afraid of turning up a lower figure this time,” says Haran with confidence.
REPORT UPSURGE IN INTEREST
In the U.S. alone, where some two-thirds of all registered diaspora Zionists live, the various Zionist organizations are all reporting an upsurge in interest and in membership figures. While newly recruited members of the movement will be again required to sign the “Jerusalem Program,” those who signed it last time and are thus established members will need only to renew their membership and pay their dues.
In those countries where the political parties are in the forefront of Zionist affairs, it will be the parties that will do most of the campaigning in the drive. Funds for the drive coming from the Jerusalem head office will go, in those countries, largely or partly to the parties, and only partly to the national federation. Similarly, members will be able to split their dues between the party of their choice and the federation.
Haran admits that the party structure can be irritating to some young people not raised on Zionist politics. But he notes that the current membership drive is “less party-oriented than the last time.” In France, for instance, figures are already reported rising sharply in the provincial towns where the parties do not operate. And there are no party operations in such important countries as Italy, Sweden and Denmark.
ENCOURAGING RESULTS SO FAR
Cables flowing in to Haran’s office at the Jewish Agency headquarters show encouraging results so far. In Italy, where the drive has ended, 5000 persons have registered, compared to 3500 in 1971. In Belgium, the figures so far are admittedly slightly down, but Haran points out that the drive this time is being conducted on a fraction of the budget of the last drive.
In 1971, the drive cost “many millions of Pounds,” Haran says. Officials were sent all over the world from Israel to assist in organizing it. This time, there is a tight budget of $200,000, which means a minimum of help from Israel and most of the work done by local leaders play and professional.