World Zionist Congress passes resolutions opposing Netanyahu government moves

Online vote for measures against plans to limit Law of Return, overhaul judiciary and revoke conversions held month after proposals were blocked by procedural maneuver

Cnaan Lidor is The Times of Israel's Jewish World reporter

Delegates to the World Zionist Congress in Jerusalem, April 20, 2023. (Twitter video screenshot: used in accordance with Clause 27a of the Copyright Law)
Delegates to the World Zionist Congress in Jerusalem, April 20, 2023. (Twitter video screenshot: used in accordance with Clause 27a of the Copyright Law)

A majority of delegates at the World Zionist Congress voted in favor of multiple resolutions critical of policies being pushed by Israel’s right-wing government, bypassing attempts by government allies to block the measures.

In the online vote this week by more than 500 delegates, a majority supported four resolutions calling on Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s government not to amend the Law of Return, urging bolstered links between LGBTQ communities in Israel and the Jewish Diaspora, opposing Conservative and Reform conversions being revoked by ultra-Orthodox religious authorities, and criticizing the government’s campaign to overhaul the judiciary.

“Current judicial reforms…have been pursued in haste and without regard for the effect that these changes will have on the relationship between Israel and Jews around the world,” one resolution read.

The resolutions had been brought to a vote during a Congress gathering in April. But right-wing delegations to the WZC filed a petition to hold time-consuming roll-call votes individually on each resolution in place of an abbreviated process that had been agreed upon.

Amid protests by hundreds of delegates to the conference, in which more than 2,000 Jewish leaders and youth from Israel and around the world participated, the presidium of the World Zionist Congress voted to suspend the votes and hold an online poll after the conclusion of Congress.

Progressive delegates to the World Zionist Congress celebrated the vote. Yizhar Hess, a former CEO of the Masorti Movement in Israel and vice chairman of the World Zionist Organization, called the resolution a “victory for democracy.” The resolutions “show the Jewish world’s firm support for Herzl’s Zionist vision: of a Jewish state that is liberal, democratic, pluralistic, and a home for each and every Jew,” added Hess, who represents the left-leaning MERCAZ Zionist union.

Theodor Herzl established the World Zionist Congress in 1897. Its delegates are elected and appointed from Jewish organizations, parties and ideological movements in dozens of countries, including Israel.

Parts of Diaspora Jewry have expressed concern about Netanyahu’s alliance with right-wing parties, which critics say are seeking to curb the rights of Arab Israelis, LGBTQ Israelis and non-Orthodox Jews. The government’s effort to transfer some powers away from the judiciary to the legislative and executive branch have also worried Jews abroad and in Israel.

Proponents of the overhaul say judicial reforms are necessary to bring back the balance between the branches of government and rein in a judiciary that they argue has overstepped its bounds.

Critics say the plans will politicize the court, remove key checks on governmental power and harm Israel’s democratic character.

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