World Zionist Organization officials and leaders have expressed concern in recent days over the coming membership of the Shas Party in the committees and agencies staffed the WZO.
Any party in the Knesset is entitled to delegates at the quadrennial Zionist congresses and in WZO institutions, including the Jewish National Fund and some of the leadership roles of the Jewish Agency which are appointed by the organization. Since its founding however, Shas has not had representation in the WZO because it has not asked for it and would not call itself a Zionist party.
That changed in recent months when Shas officials openly stated that they wished to enter the Zionist institutions and insisted they were “Zionist.”
At the coming Zionist congress slated to take place in Jerusalem on June 15, Shas will formally begin its membership in the Zionist movement with delegates in proportion to the party’s representation in the Knesset.
But this development has raised concerns in the Zionist institutions, especially from liberal religious movements. According to many Reform and Conservative representatives, Shas’s membership will not be constructive, since the party intends to aggressively work to weaken the influence of non-Orthodox and Diaspora delegations.
It currently plans to present two proposals at the upcoming congress, one that will remove words celebrating Jewish pluralism from the organization’s ideological “Jerusalem program” and another that will lessen the proportional representation in the organization of Diaspora Zionist movements and religious strains.
A representative of Shas MK and party director-general Yaakov Margi, who spoke to The Jerusalem Post
on Thursday, insisted the party wanted to join the organization in order to do good.
“We define ourselves as a Zionist party, as observant Jews who love Israel. Our goal is to make our voice heard in this forum. We want to help the Jewish people in the Diaspora in issues of education,” he said.
But asked if Shas could work alongside Reform and Conservative delegates, the spokesman insisted it wouldn’t need to.
“We see Reform representatives who visit the Knesset. That doesn’t mean we’re working with them in the Knesset.”
It is that discomfort on Shas’s part that is causing worry among the liberal streams over the attitude of the new member party.
There is no opposition to Shas’s’ membership in principle.
“I do not oppose their membership and I don’t support any inquiry into
their intentions,” said Rabbi Richard Hirsch, Reform representative in
the Zionist institutions and the respected chairman of the Zionist
General Council, the WZO’s broadest representative body.
Yet, “there is a lot of worry” said a WZO official who asked not to be
named. “People are wondering how Shas will behave, if it understands
the mutual respect all different groups have for each other in the WZO.”
“If they are joining for the right reasons, that makes us feel great
about their membership,? said Dr. David Breakstone, head of the WZO’s
Department for Zionist activities and a representative of Conservative
Jewry in the organization.
“But I’m very concerned because of the steps they have taken so far,” he added.
These two proposals, targeting diaspora representation and the
commitment to pluralism in the WZO platform, says Breakstone, may be
signs of things to come.
“I’m happy for them to join if they want to stand beside me, but not if they want to push me aside,” Breakstone said.