Shas enters WZO with controversial ideas

Sephardi party makes its mark with proposal seen as attack on non-Orthodox Judaism.

shas ovadia yosef 248 88 (photo credit: Ariel Jerozolimski [file])
shas ovadia yosef 248 88
(photo credit: Ariel Jerozolimski [file])
Next Tuesday will mark the launch of the 36th Zionist Congress in Jerusalem, the first such congress that will see the Sephardi haredi party, Shas, as a formal member of the Zionist movement
Shas’s request to join comes at a strange time, according to many observers and critics. Recently divorced from the Jewish Agency in a reform passed last year, the World Zionist Organization, founded by Herzl in 1897 as the midwife to the future Jewish state, has shrunk to a small network of international organizations that often do not represent any real constituency at home. With a total budget of just $12m. annually, the WZO has little left over from its own operating costs to run significant programs.
Shas’s first steps in the organization have also raised eyebrows, especially among liberal Diaspora groups, by placing a proposal on the congress’ agenda that would change the language of the WZO’s formal doctrinal document, the “Jerusalem Program.”
Instead of seeking a Jewish state “marked by mutual respect for the multi-faceted Jewish people,” Shas’s proposal would see the Zionist movement supporting a state committed to “love of the Jewish people.” Instead of “an exemplary society… rooted in the vision of the prophets,” that society would be based on “the Torah of Israel.”
This proposal has been taken as a direct attack on the non-Orthodox movements, which together with their left-wing and center-left allies from Israel’s Knesset make up over 40 percent of the delegates to the Congress.
Thus, Shas’s formal entrance into the Zionist movement, aged and dilapidated though it may be, has been a rough one. So why did it choose to enter the world Zionist institutions in the first place?
“Shas can’t stand idly by while the Jewish people annihilates itself,” explains Yigal Bibi, a former mayor of Tiberias and NRP MK, and today Shas’s faction chairman in the WZO.
“We have lost 25 million Jews to assimilation since the Holocaust,” he said. “So it doesn’t matter who you’re sitting next to, as long as you’re working to save the Jewish people. And you won’t save it with gay pride marches, but with Jewish education.”
Asked whether the proposed changes to the Jerusalem Program targeted the liberal Jewish groups, Bibi insisted, “We don’t want to fight with the Conservatives or Reform or Meretz. Are we interfering in how they live their lives? Let them do what they want.”
 But, he added, “we can’t keep talking in these slogans. What areJewish values? Why can’t we just say Torah? And what is multi-faceted?There is one Jewish people. Our great disaster today as a people isthat we’re so divided. The Conservative rabbi is also my brother, [partof] the Jewish people.”
“Instead of doing something in the world, the WZO is chatting away withthese big words,” he accused. “Seven hundred delegates are going tomeet and do what?”
“Shas’s joining of the organization is meant to help direct the WZO toward Jewish education worldwide,” he added.
“Why did we come to the WZO? It’s not part of the [Jewish] Agencyanymore, so there are no jobs to be had. We’re here because if you wantto teach the youth not to assimilate, you have to speak clearly. Shas’smotto is simple and clear: the people of Israel, the land of Israel,the Torah of Israel.”