On January 21, voting in America begins for the 38th World Zionist Congress – the governing body of the World Zionist Organization, Jewish National Fund, and the Jewish Agency for Israel.
Every American Jew above 18 can vote, and several organizations are urging Orthodox Jews to back them so they can ensure the Congress – which also decides how $1 billion is spent in support of Israel and world Jewry – champions Torah values, not “progressive” policies.
Before voting, though, every person must affirm his or her commitment to what is called the “Jerusalem Program.” And that’s problematic. Why? Because the program begins with a false statement and an arguably misguided vision.
Its opening sentence reads as follows:
“Zionism, the national liberation movement of the Jewish people, brought about the establishment of the State of Israel, and views a Jewish, Zionist, democratic and secure State of Israel to be the expression of the common responsibility of the Jewish people for its continuity and future.”
No believing Jew can read the beginning of the above sentence and not wince. Zionism brought the establishment of Israel?! No, G-d did. The founding of the state was so miraculous that only the most religiously-insensitive person could boldly declare that Zionism is responsible.
Of course, G-d works through people. Visionary Zionists like Theodor Herzl, Chaim Weizmann, Ze’ev Jabotinsky, and David Ben Gurion worked tirelessly for decades chasing a dream that even many sympathetic supporters thought quixotic. Yet, amazingly, this dream came true after just 50 years. These men were heroes and deserve our undying gratitude.
That said, the prime mover of history is G-d, and the omission of G-d from the Jerusalem Program’s opening statement about the return of the Jewish people to Eretz Yisrael after 2,000 years of exile is truly unconscionable. It cannot be ignored.
My second objection to the Jerusalem Program’s opening sentence is its stated vision of “a Jewish, Zionist, democratic and secure State of Israel [as] the expression of the common responsibility of the Jewish people for its continuity and future.”
I understand “Jewish” and “Zionist.” But why “democratic”? Undoubtedly, of the various forms of government today, a democracy is the most fair, but is upholding a democratic state really “the common responsibility of the Jewish people for its continuity and future”? Where in the Torah does such a “responsibility” exist? Is it not possible to envision a system in which tyrannical abuse is checked but which isn’t technically democratic as it aims to facilitate Torah observance among the Jewish people?
Some frum Jews argue that Israel must be a theocracy. In the times of Sefer Melachim, it was a monarchy (often led by an evil king). Before then, the Jews were very loosely governed by shoftim, which American thinkers like Thomas Paine deemed ideal (see the extensive quotes from Sefer Shmuel in his famous work Common Sense).
Which system does Hashem prefer in the modern era? It’s not entirely clear. Perhaps He would sanction a democratic Israel even if one day everyone in the country were observant and thus “on the same page.” But is it certain that He would? Can a frum Jew confidently assert that it’s “the common responsibility of the Jewish people” to maintain Israel as a democracy?
Some may object that all the above amounts to quibbling; that affirming one’s commitment to the Jerusalem Program is a pro forma act that means little; that voting in the elections for this influential body is more important than standing on principle; that the Jerusalem Program overall is laudatory in that it calls for Jewish unity, aliyah, and fighting for Jewish rights.
But I humbly propose that the religious and traditional parties sitting in the next World Zionist Congress work to amend the Jerusalem Program so that G-d is given credit for Israel’s founding and the pursuit of democracy not be identified as a Zionist goal.
The opinions expressed in this column do not necessarily reflect those of the full editorial board of The Jewish Press.