I am resigning as a Blue and White delegate to the World Zionist Congress (WZC), which starts on October 20, 2020.
Although personally honest, Blue and White’s leader, Benny Gantz, fell into the trap of treating the Zionist Congress like a juicy carcass for sleazy pols to ravage. As Gantz feeds the culture of corruption he vowed to fight, the ethical swamp that is Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s government and Likud Party keeps spreading. The bog has now consumed Gantz, his party and the Zionist Congress.
I won’t participate in this farce. And let’s end the charade: Having crossed so many redlines, Blue and White should change its name to Shades of Gray.
While looking forward to following in Theodor Herzl’s footsteps, I hesitated accepting the nomination as delegate, because you must join a party to attend the Zionist Congress. I am no joiner. As an academic and a columnist, I prefer my independence and detest the all-or-nothing, our-leader’s-way-or-the-highway rigidity that constitutes party loyalty today.
But having so ardently supported Blue and White’s attempt to cleanse Israel of the Netanyahu curse, I figured I wasn’t compromising any principles by joining it. Besides, I watched my friends in the American Zionist Movement (AZM) invest passionately in the WZC elections. I wanted to honor their efforts, which increased the votes by 115%, attracting the most voters since American Zionists started electing delegates openly three decades ago.
Finally, I acknowledge two personal motivations. In July, with Israel’s corona crisis seemingly controlled, I hoped there might be some fun social events by October, maybe even with cherished fellow Zionists from abroad. Second, I hoped to help my friend and esteemed colleague Prof. Alon Tal in his long-shot bid to lead the Keren Kayemeth LeIsrael-Jewish National Fund.
Unfortunately, despite the idealism the AZM stirred this year among American Zionists, and the shimmering history of this congress, which turned the Zionist idea into our wonderful democratic Jewish state, the WZC lost its moral mojo.
Israeli politicos treat the WZC like a billion-dollar cash cow. As they swoop in for the kill, most American leaders are as silent as lambs. America’s Reform and Conservative movements joined forces for the Congress, making them potential kingmakers as the largest center-left faction. It’s depressing to watch these outmaneuvered naive waifs watch haplessly – or calculatingly join the politico-thugs pounding away at one another in their quest to control money that should improve the Jewish people’s quality of life, not their personal standard of living.
While this is a decades-old story, I trusted Blue and White to be different. If the unwieldy coalition Gantz forged had one defining principle, it was the commitment to restoring purity to politics. This anti-Bibi party was pro-good government, clean elections and honest politicians.
THAT VISION made Tal Blue and White’s ideal choice to head the JNF.
Tal is not only Mr. Clean, he is Israel’s Mr. Green. A pioneering activist who put the iron in Israeli environmentalism, he cleverly transplanted various American social-change tactics in Israel, from class-action lawsuits to creative protests. He and the NGOs he launched have been so effective that their example helped Israeli civil society soar since he arrived in the 1980s.
Over 100 leading environmentalists joined a broad coalition of activists endorsing Tal, anxious to save KKL-JNF from its current lackluster, ethically dodgy leader.
Had Gantz backed another candidate, Ze’ev Bielski, I wouldn’t be resigning. Bielski’s an honorable leader who has chaired the Jewish Agency and the World Zionist Organization.
But Gantz lost me and many others by endorsing Danny Atar, the incumbent accused of cronyism, preferential treatment, stealing public lands and illegally diverting JNF funds to unapproved projects.
The solar energy impresario Yossi Abramowitz sighed: “The NGO that drained the swamps is now the swamp that needs draining.”While Blue and White tarnished its reputation for political cleanliness, the leaders of Reform and Conservative Jewry burnished their reputation for World-Zionist-Congressional cowardice. They stayed silent, as they have done for years, allowing the Israeli pols to fight over these once-legendary Zionist positions like rabid dogs hungering for meat.
Some of these self-righteous hypocrites love condemning Israel on geopolitical matters wherein they have no power and no special insight. Yet when something important emerged that they could influence, lily-liveredness and political gamesmanship paralyzed them. My sources say they amassed power, but took no responsibility.The punchline is a modern morality tale: Despite selling his soul, Gantz still failed. Further illustrating Blue and White’s incompetence and our Politburo politics in the Age of Bibi, a Bibi-backing right-wing coalition snapped the job out of Gantz’s hands. Last-minute maneuvering to save Atar’s pork source failed – thankfully. One conscience-driven politician – Yair Lapid – doubts Atar’s integrity and refused to help Gantz, his former partner.
Tragically, the JNF job is now slated to be rotated by the honorable Avraham Duvdevani of Mizrachi and – I can’t make this up – the Likudnik Haim Katz now under indictment for fraud. Unlike Bibi, Katz at least had the decency to resign from the cabinet after he was charged.
My friends and I wonder: Can’t the Zionist movement find candidates who aren’t under suspicion? When did being charged with corruption become a criterion for being charged with leading key Zionist institutions?
Where are the ideological debates the Zionist movement needs? All I hear is pork, pork, pork. Note the kosher karma: complaints about the religious-right wing takeover sound hollow when power politics took over long ago.
In our new book, Never Alone, Natan Sharansky and I propose a Global Jewish Council, a new “Jewish people’s parliament” to provide a “better framework for constructive dialogue.
”Hurt insiders asked us, “Why propose something new? What about the WZC?” Benny and Bibi, Atar and Katz, the restrained Reformers and clammed-up Conservatives, just gave the answer: The World Zionist Congress has become the World Zionist Casbah.
Recently designated one of Algemeiner’s J-100, one of the top 100 people “positively influencing Jewish life,” Gil Troy is the author of the newly-released The Zionist Ideas , an update and expansion of Arthur Hertzberg’s classic anthology The Zionist Idea, published by the Jewish Publication Society and a 2019 National Jewish Book Award Finalist.. A Distinguished Scholar of North American History at McGill University,and the author of nine books on American History, his book, Never Alone: Prison, Politics and My People, co-authored with Natan Sharansky was just published by PublicAffairs of Hachette.