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Around the Jewish World: Zionists Who Stay in Russia Seek Acceptance from WZO

January 14, 2000
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The Russian Zionist movement has taken a step toward becoming a permanent force in Russian Jewish life — and not one solely dedicated to encouraging Jews to make aliyah.

At a recent meeting here, several dozen delegates from throughout Russia gathered at a hotel to form an umbrella group called the Zionist Federation of Russia.

“The Zionist movement shouldn’t be reduced to emigration to Israel,” said Katya Veselova, director of Jewish radio in Moscow, who was one of the group’s founders.

“The movement has to be legalized and should have official opportunities to lobby for the interests of Israel at the highest political level, to officially collect money for Israel.”

In recent years, Russian Jewish life has developed three main branches: religious, communal and Zionist.

The religious and communal branches of the Russian Jewish movement quickly gained international recognition and their umbrella organizations were integrated into international organizations such as the World Jewish Congress.

But the Zionist movement ran into problems integrating into the World Zionist Organization, the world body representing Zionist institutions.

The modern Russian Zionist movement officially came into existence in 1989, and by 1992, was officially registered with the Russian Ministry of Justice.

But officials with the WZO, then headed by Simcha Dinitz, didn’t want to accept a Russian organization into the group because they believed Russian Jews as a community would disappear with mass immigration to Israel. They further believed that true Russian Zionists should emigrate.

Even as it became clear that despite continued high numbers of emigration, hundreds of thousands of Jews would remain in Russia, the attitude of Zionist officials changed slowly — in part because under WZO regulations, the Zionist Federation of Russia would become the sole agent in Russia of the WZO and of the Jewish Agency for Israel and would have a say in how emigration and other projects are funded.

Currently, the Jewish Agency has its own operations in Russia.

But there is a growing recognition in Russia that the Zionist movement is growing in power — a sentiment apparently shared in Israel as well.

Representatives of several Israeli political parties came to Moscow to be represented in the new federation, among them the liberal Shinui and Meretz parties, the Labor Party and Israel Our Home, one of the two Russian political parties in the Knesset.

Conservative and Reform Judaism are also represented in the new federation, which hopes to be accepted into the WZO as a full member at the next World Zionist Congress in the summer of 2002.

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