Struggling for Zionism

The entire Hatikvah platform was created out of what we thought was the best way to strengthen Israel and the Diaspora-Israel relationship.

A baby sits in front of an Israeli flag (photo credit: MARC ISRAEL SELLEM/THE JERUSALEM POST)
A baby sits in front of an Israeli flag
A few weeks ago, MK Stav Shaffir lambasted the Bayit Yehudi Party in the Knesset. She told them that their corruption – transferring billions of shekels from Israeli taxpayers to the settlements – is an affront to real Zionism. She said, “real Zionism is solidarity, not only in battle, but in everyday life.”
MK Shaffir’s words ring as true in the United States Jewish community as they do in the Knesset. The past year has seen my organization, Partners for Progressive Israel, attacked by people and NGOs that intend to deprive progressive Jews of their voice in the Diaspora.
Last spring, a collection of anti-liberal groups protested our participation in New York’s Celebrate Israel Parade. At their protests they passed out fliers that compared us to Nazis. They said we were actually anti-Israel propagandists “out to hurt hard-working Jews.”
Those organizations that attack us, interested in imposing their ideology on all Jews, are just as adamant about the exclusion of progressive ideas as Bayit Yehudi leader Naftali Bennett and Construction and Housing Minister Uri Ariel are. They act as if real Zionism means silencing Jews with whom they disagree.
Lately, these groups have tried wielding their influence in the World Zionist Organization (WZO), seeking to disqualify the Hatikvah Slate – made up of the US contingents of the Labor and Meretz parties – from the World Zionist Congress, which is to take place this October.
The WZO built essential institutions in pre-state Palestine. Since the founding of the State of Israel in 1948, the WZO has continued to fund youth education, immigrant absorption, and other services. Decisions about allocating the WZO’s funds – some $30 million – are made by participants of the World Zionist Congress. The Congress is the only place where official representatives of Diaspora Zionist organizations and Israeli political parties meet to discuss policy.
This year, Partners for Progressive Israel is running on a joint slate with Ameinu, Hashomer Hatzair and Habonim Dror, four organizations that make up some of the oldest Zionist institutions in the world. We are called the Hatikvah Slate, and we believe we are fighting for an Israel that lives up to the standards set out in its Declaration of Independence.
More to the point, we have consistently demanded transparency in the WZO’s Settlement Division, which transfers untold amounts of money to communities east of the Green Line. In a Knesset subcommittee meeting last April, Meretz chair Zehava Gal-On asked subcommittee head MK David Rotem to disclose the settlement division’s spending. Rotem refused, saying, “I want to stop you from getting information... aimed at preventing building in Judea and Samaria [the West Bank].” He denied democratic process within the very walls of the Knesset.
Yesterday, the Hatikvah Slate succeeded in passing a resolution at the executive committee meeting of the WZO that will impose transparency on the Settlement Division’s budget. Next we will demand an end to spending by the WZO on communities located over the Green Line.
This goal is the reason some organizations are seeking our expulsion. They claim that we’re anti-Semitic because we don’t agree with a blank-check funding policy for settlements in the West Bank.
These organizations, fully backed by funding from a well-known casino magnate, file motions in the Zionist courts that we have to respond to, diverting slim resources otherwise devoted to programs seeking to reinforce the American Jewish bond with Israel. They would rather disqualify us than respond to our resolutions using the democratic process.
The entire Hatikvah platform was created out of what we thought was the best way to strengthen Israel and the Diaspora-Israel relationship. Our positions support Israel. They support Israelis.
Our positions are rooted in equality and social justice. We stand for equal treatment of women, and we support programs that allow youth groups in the Diaspora to learn Hebrew and take part in Zionism. We stand for the responsible, accountable allocation of funds.
The Hatikvah Slate is being attacked because a small group of people do not agree with our positions. We are not being challenged to explain the legitimacy or relevance of those positions.
We are not being asked to rephrase them so that those who don’t agree with us will better understand our conception of liberal democracy for Israel. We are not even being told to stop our campaign by those who don’t agree with us. The organizations attacking us are attacking our right to speak by demanding our disqualification. And in doing so they are chipping away at one of the first Jewish and democratic institutions in the world.
If they succeed, they will have trampled on justice, democracy and the Zionist project. And if you do not vote freely in the elections they are attacking, then you are complicit in the destruction of that institution.
The author is managing director of Partners for Progressive Israel, a leading member of the Hatikvah Slate.