Menu JTA Search

Parties Espousing Religious Pluralism Gain in Zionist Congress Elections

Results of the American elections to the World Zionist Congress indicate a substantial victory for Zionist parties promoting religious pluralism in Israel and losses for all traditional parties except Friends of Labor Israel.

Two parties running on the platform of religious pluralism — MERCAZ, the newly formed organization for Conservative Judaism; and ARZA, the Association for Reform Zionists of America–made the largest gains of seats in the American delegation to the December 1987 quadrennial Congress. MERCAZ, running for the first time, received 20 seats. ARZA won 33 seats, 19 more than it had in the previous Congress.

Hadassah made the strongest showing in the election, with 48 seats, but that represented a loss of 21. Friends of Labor Israel gained two seats to win 15. The Zionist Organization of America garnered 12 seats, a loss of 10, and Herut Zionists of America won nine, a loss of four.

Religious issues in general seemed to dominate the voting, as more than half of the seats before imposition of penalties on the Orthodox Zionist slate went to the religious parties. The Religious Zionist Movement (Orthodox) had 56 percent of its ballots disqualified for penalties, leaving it with 14 seats, a loss of five.

Only one of the nine slates, the newly created Students for Israel list, failed to gain any seats, which are granted based on the percentage won of the total vote. The students were assessed heavy penalties for irregularities, and 93 percent of their votes were disqualified. The other seven percent of its votes did not meet the 1,387 vote minimum needed to gain a seat.

The Progressive Zionist List was also assessed heavy penalties. About 74 percent of its votes were disqualified, resulting in only one seat, a loss of one from the previous Congress. Penalties for all other parties were minimal.

RANDOM SAMPLES

Karen Rubinstein, executive director of the American Zionist Federation (AZF) which administered the U.S. Zionist elections, explained that penalties were assessed for many voting and membership irregularities. Some ballots were disqualified for technical errors such as improper markings and codings.

To check for compliance with the election guidelines, two percent of the membership lists of each organization on all slates (many of the slates are comprised of more than one organization) were randomly sampled by a computer. Under these guidelines, all eligible voters must be at least age 18, have signed the Jerusalem Program expressing commitment to Israel and Jewish values, and be paid members of a Zionist organization.

Penalties were imposed for “padding” the membership lists, multiple ballots cast by one person or failure to meet any one of the membership requirements.

In the case of the student slate, Rubinstein said every ballot checked in the random sample of each student organization’s membership was found faulty and thus disqualified.

The Progressive Zionist and Religious Zionist lists have both informed the AZF that they intend to appeal the penalties imposed. Each slate is allowed two appeals.

About 28 percent of the all eligible voters who are members of American Zionist organizations voted in this year’s election. The total number of valid ballots cast was 210,957, and about 8,500 were disqualified. American Zionist organizations comprise 29 percent of the delegates at the Zionist Congress, or 152 seats.

NEXT STORY