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Zionist General Council Discusses Aliyah, Revamping Education Program

June 19, 1990
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Soviet Jews are applying to come to Israel at the rate of 1,700 a day, World Zionist Organization Chairman Simcha Dinitz said at the opening of the Zionist General Council here.

“A quarter of the Jewish people is on the move in the direction of Israel,” Dinitz told 150 delegates representing Zionist organizations from all over the world. The Zionist General Council, which convenes once a year in Jerusalem, is the governing body of the WZO between Zionist congresses.

Israel’s goal, Dinitz said, is to “make every effort to bring out as many (Soviet) Jews as possible in the shortest possible time.” He said that emissaries of the Zionist movement were in the Soviet Union teaching Hebrew and preparing thousands of Jews for aliyah.

WZO Treasurer Meir Sheetrit called on world Jewry to launch a militant campaign to free the 3,000 Jews of Yemen, who he said are living in terrible conditions.

“The silence on this issue is a crime that will not be forgiven,” he said. “We in the Zionist movement should not wait for an initiative by the government (of Israel), but should start a campaign in all public forums. I am certain that it will bring results.”

Dinitz welcomed delegates from the Soviet Union and Hungary who are attending the Zionist conference for the first time.

The Zionist General Council, which will be followed at the end of this week by the opening of the annual Jewish Agency Assembly, is grappling with the sensitive issue of Jewish education in the Diaspora, one of the WZO’s main functions.

The delegates discussed a proposal to set up a “Jewish Education Authority,” which is supposed to reorganize the many education programs for Diaspora Jews run by the WZO.


The role of the WZO in Jewish education for the Diaspora has been a bone of contention for many years between the Diaspora fund-raising and communal bodies that fund the WZO and the Israeli political parties and Zionist organizations that run it.

The Diaspora bodies, which are represented on the Jewish Agency Board of Governors, have had little control over how the money they provide the WZO is spent. The fund-raising organizations now want to end that situation, which has prevailed for decades.

During the past two years, leaders of the WZO and the fund-raising bodies have worked up a proposal that would force the WZO to yield some of its power to a Jewish Education Authority, in which Diaspora organizations would exercise more of an oversight role.

Dinitz, a Labor Party member who also chairs the Jewish Agency Executive, stressed the positive side of the proposal, which he said assures the dominance of the WZO and a victory for Zionist ideology.

“This is an achievement of which we can be proud,” Dinitz said of the plan for the authority. He said the authority would allow the WZO to “reach out to communities (in the Diaspora) which have been closed to us until now.”

The Likud bloc in the WZO, however, opposes the proposal. The head of the bloc, Matityahu Drobles, said that the authority would spell “the end of the Zionist movement,” because of policy-making powers to be ceded to the fundraising and communal leaders.

The American Zionists affiliated with or sympathetic to Likud, including the Zionist Organization of America, are also opposed to the plan.

Other American Zionist groups, including Hadassah, the Association of Reform Zionists of America and Mercaz, the association of Conservative Zionists, support the plan. Nevertheless, these groups have serious reservations about some of its provisions.

Norman Schwartz, president of ARZA, said that “the authority was supposed to improve the delivery of Jewish-Zionist education and to eliminate duplication, but it does neither.”

Pointing out that one of the WZO departments has always been in the hands or the Orthodox, he proposed that another department explicitly serve the religious needs of the Reform and Conservative movements, as well as the cultural needs of non-religious Jews.

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