NEW YORK (May. 11)
A dispute within the American Zionist Federation over the system adopted for the election of American delegates to the next World Zionist Congress has been settled by a special AZF tribunal. In the first meeting of the tribunal to adjudicate a challenge by the Americans for Progressive Israel (API) of the election procedure, a majority of the tribunal voted to uphold the AZF’s Area Election Committee’s (AEC) decision of last February.
The decision at that time was that 55 percent of the delegates would be determined by direct, ballot, elections by members of the AZF’s constituent Zionist organizations and 45 percent would be allocated to the organizations on the basis of their certified membership. There will be 152 delegates from the U.S. to the Congress scheduled to be held in Jerusalem in February, 1978.
SAYS DEMOCRATIC NORMS VIOLATED
The tribunal’s decision followed a hearing on the challenge by the API which charged that the present election procedure “violates accepted democratic norms and thus is injurious to the Zionist movement both internally and in its public image.”
Bernard Harkavy, attorney for the API, in his statement before the tribunal during which only five of the nine attorneys participated, argued that the dual system for electing delegates “would work out that large organizations with substantial numbers of dormant but dues-paying members would benefit” while “smaller groups with higher percentages of active members would gain stronger representation if there were a strictly ‘one person, one vote’ system.”
Harkavy also pointed out that “granting organizational allocations is deleterious to the democratic process because many people belong to various constituent organizations simultaneously.” He added that the present system was “undemocratic” because if negated a section of the World Zionist Organization (WZO) constitution which mandates elections “in accordance with a method consistent with generally accepted democratic principles.” The API, he said, interprets this as meaning elections by a one-person, one-vote system.
NOTES LEGALITY WAS SUSTAINED
Martin Markson, attorney for the AZF, claimed that the legality of the dual election system was sustained by the Zionist Congress Court in 1971 which said that “it is permissible to take into account the particular circumstances” that obtained in a given country with respect to determining the electoral system. Markson likened the AEC’s decision to the system that applied to the U.S. where the membership of one branch of government “is based on equal representation for each constituent element while the other reflects the popular electoral strength among the people.”
Sam Rothstein, who chaired the tribunal but did not participate in its ruling, summed up the tribunal’s majority decision by saying that the API case was dismissed because the panel was “convinced” that elections based on a 45/55 distribution are democratic considering the nature of the Zionist movement. “The tribunal,” he stated, “cannot and will not mandate that all delegates will be elected by direct vote.”
Herbert Dubno, who issued a dissenting opinion, said the WZO constitution describes only two permissible methods of elections–”proportional representation” or “personal elections.” Therefore, he said, the tribunal should grant API’s request to annual the election procedure and require it to select between either one system or the other. Dubno added that he found “insufficient similarity,” between the American electoral system Markson had referred to “and the nationwide elections required for the delegates to the World Zionist Congress.”
AZF president Faye Schenk hailed the tribunal’s ruling as “vindicating the majority-approved method of the AEC.” She commended the API, however, “for submitting its complaint to the Zionist Tribunal.” In addition to Dubno, the other attorneys who participated in the tribunal were Brooklyn District Attorney Eugene Gold, Saul Kies, Helen Lusterman and Nathaniel Zelikow.