In October, the 38th World Zionist Congress (WZC)—an institution founded by Theodor Herzl himself in 1897—will take place in Jerusalem. About one-third of those who attend will be Americans. The organization’s American branch recently held elections, which are open to any U.S. Jew willing to pay a nominal fee and agree to a bare-bones platform. The results, released on Monday, show that among the 123,629 who participated there is much support for Orthodox and right-leaning slates, and little for Hatikvah, the “progressive” slate backed by such organizations as J Street, the New Israel Fund, and Americans for Peace Now. Jonathan Tobin comments:
The number of voters [in the election] was more than double the number who took part in [the most recent Congress in] 2015 and far more than even the 75,686 who took part in 1997, the last time there was a significant shift in the preferences of the participants. The slates representing the Reform and Conservative movements amassed roughly 60 percent of the vote in 1997. In 2015, the two movements combined to get 56 percent. But this year, their share declined to only 37 percent.
The combined vote of slates that are linked to right-wing and religious parties in Israel won a clear majority of the votes cast in the election. That’s an astonishing turnaround when you consider the non-Orthodox movements and other liberal groups have won strong majorities in the past. [Moreover], while all of the slates turned out many more voters than in 2015, the greatest growth was among the Orthodox slates. Hatikvah, which sought to demonstrate the appeal of J Street and other liberal and left-wing groups, flopped.
The Congress vote demonstrates exactly what many observers of the demographic implosion of non-Orthodox Jewry have long worried about. Those who are still deeply involved in the Jewish community are more likely to be Orthodox and to sympathize with the right. Yet most surveys show the Orthodox making up only about 10 to 12 percent of American Jewry, far less than the total [percentage] won by the Orthodox slates. Still, Americans with Jewish ties who are less likely to identify with any of the denominations—let alone a secular Zionist party—clearly had little interest in the election.