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In Defense of Progressive Values at the World Zionist Congress

Two of the candidates in the WZC’s upcoming elections make their case; Liel Leibovitz responds

Kenneth Bob and Karen Shapiro
February 25, 2020
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"J Street Conference 2011, Picture # 111" by jstreetdotorgCreative Commons
Creative Commons
"J Street Conference 2011, Picture # 111" by jstreetdotorgCreative Commons

If we told you there was a once in five years opportunity to make your voice heard in a global process that will determine how five billion dollars are spent on Jewish and Israeli projects, would you consider that important? What if we told you that, by participating, you could fight against settlement expansion and annexation? What would you think if you knew that, by voting in this election, you could stand up for religious pluralism, champion gender equity and LGBTQ equality, and work for economic justice? And how about if we added in regional cooperation on environmental sustainability as well treating refugees and asylum seekers with the dignity that they deserve? All of these things and more are part of the HATIKVAH: Progressive Israel Slate platform, in the World Zionist Congress elections that are currently taking place.

And yet, in what can only be described as an effort to suppress the vote among progressive Zionists, who by the way make up the majority of American Jews, Liel Leibovitz describes the World Zionist Organization in a recent Tablet article as “a totally meaningless organization with no real power.” Of course if it is “totally meaningless” then it is unclear why Leibovitz would wave a warning flag about “one well-organized faction set to win the election and then transform these decayed and hollowed institutions”.

There is indeed one group prepared to do just that, the HATIKVAH: Progressive Israel Slate. Our coalition is made up of 11 national Jewish organizations, joined by an incredible list of individual leaders and activists. All of us have come together to continue a tradition as old as the World Zionist Congress itself, that of progressive Zionism. By combining our philosophical approach and political agenda, we plan to shake up these old, yet significant institutions.

After attacking a trio of respected community leaders, Leibovitz begrudgingly notes that “There are of course, also well meaning people on the HATIKVAH Slate”. We, along with our unfairly besmirched colleagues Rabbi Jill Jacobs, Jeremy Ben Ami, Peter Beinart, and the rest of our slate, are Zionists, are committed to a secure Jewish and Democratic Israel, and are proud to stand for election to the 38th World Zionist Congress.

Our slate includes twenty-four Israeli citizens who have spent decades living in Israel, serving in the IDF, and working to build the country into one that lives up to the values of its founders. Thirteen Rabbis from across denominations have chosen to be part of the HATIKVAH slate, along with veteran Jewish community professionals, youth movement leaders, labor union Presidents, academics, artists and activists from across the nation. Our slate is the first to declare that at least 50 percent of our members would be women, going well past the WZO mandate of 30 percent. In addition, we are 30 percent youth (under 35) and are the first and only slate to have dedicated seats for Jews of Color.

Leibovitz is right about one thing (and one thing only). By building the most diverse slate and bringing a broad range of new voices into the World Zionist Congress process, the HATIKVAH slate is poised to use this opportunity to build power, to represent the voice of the majority of American Jews, and to turn our values into action.

Liel Leibovitz Replies:

You don’t have to read far into Mr. Bob and Ms. Shapiro’s response to catch the first glimpse of why one may find their slate objectionable: To equate criticism of their candidates with “an effort to suppress the vote” betrays a profound lack of understanding of how an informed democracy works. As per usual with today’s quivering left, side by side with laughable claims of imagined persecution, their response also delivers a stacked plate of platitudes, touching on every progressive buzzword, from LGBTQ equality to fighting that ever-effective bogeyman, the Settlements.

Here’s what Mr. Bob and Ms. Shapiro’s reply fails to do: It fails to tell you why you, or anyone else, should support a slate that places the onus for peace squarely on Israel while failing to spare even a single word of criticism for the corrupt and murderous Palestinian Authority, and that still believes, contrary to plainly visible evidence, that Israel is suffering from a “growing pariah status” in the Arab world. It fails to tell you what propels its senior members, like Mr. Ben-Ami, to embrace Mahmoud Abbas, now in the sixteenth year of his four-year term, a despot who still pays millions to the murderers of Jews and still waxes poetic about conquering Jerusalem from the Jews. And it fails to tell you how American liberals, no matter how well-meaning, may unite Israelis and Palestinians in dialogue when twenty years of fevered attempts, brokered by four American presidents and four Israeli prime ministers, have resulted in wave after wave of Palestinian terrorism and violence.

Instead of answers to these inconvenient but absolutely seminal questions, Mr. Bob and Ms. Shapiro offer a sprinkling of sweet words—diversity! Equality! Justice!—as well as a long and detailed nod to identity politics.

Jewish voters deserve much better. They deserve a morally serious left wing that pursues its convictions with open eyes, acknowledging difficult realities and demanding the very same rectitude of the Arabs they do so sharply of the Jews. Israelis, not having the luxury to amuse themselves with feel-good grad school posturing, realized this long ago, which is why the political positions Hatikvah’s slate now endorses fell out of favor with the overwhelming majority of voters there. To empower these discarded delusions yet again would be folly. To do so while claiming the mantle of global Jewish consensus by occupying the shell of a largely ossified yet still endowed organization would be a travesty.


Read the article that sparked this exchange here.

Kenneth Bob is the National President of Ameinu. Karen Shapiro is the Vice President of Partners for Progressive Israel.