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Progressive Zionists in the World Zionist Organisation

Steve Denenberg
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Published: 23 June 2015

Last updated: 4 March 2024

Earlier this year, after two days of committee meetings, arguments, and re-drafting of resolutions, the General Council of the World Zionist Congress (WZC) approved for implementation 34 of the 35 resolutions supported by ARZENU, the world organisation of Reform Zionist organisatons.

These included a declaration that Zionism remains synonymous with ensuring Israel continues to be a democratic Jewish State opposed to all forms of racism and calls for:

  • the disproportionate flow of funds to settlements to be properly monitored and supervised by the World Zionist Organisation (WZO);

  • additional funds to be allocated to education and encouragement of youth;

  • the WZO and the Government of Israel to work with Jewish diaspora communities to combat antisemitic and anti-Israel activities, through education and engagement with organisations that promote peace and tolerance.

In addition to resolutions to encourage and support the Government of Israel and the WZO, there were also a number of approved resolutions that will bring unprecedented accountability and inclusiveness to the WZO and Zionist Federations around the world.

This conference showed that, as the strongest faction in the WZC, the Progressive Jewish coalition, including the world movement ARZENU, is a major contributor to making Israel stronger and more inclusive, and to promotion of democratic and egalitarian values throughout the Zionist movement.

Earlier this year, each country’s representative Zionist groups had either to hold elections for, or to reach unanimous agreement on, the allocation of the allotted mandates.

Australia’s Zionist groups reached unanimous agreement. The mandates to the Congress were allocated in accordance with previous allocations and as a reflection of the respective strength of each group in the community.  This agreement avoided the significant cost of an election and, far more importantly, reflected agreement of all Australian Zionist groups to be inclusive of a diverse range of views.

Members of the Progressive community were pleased that in the preliminary campaign, The Australian Reform Zionist Association (ARZA) was by far the strongest party and, even after the inevitable compromises required for consensus, ARZA will have four representatives in the 13-person Australian delegation to go to the WZC in October of this year. The other mandates were allocated as follows: Misrachi 4, Ameinu 2, Likud 1, Mrecaz 1 and Meretz 1.

The strong response to the initial registration and membership campaign has enhanced ARZA’s standing in the Zionist Federation of Australia. It has also inspired progressive groups in other countries and has been commended by the world leadership of ARZENU.

Following the success of the Association of Reform Zionists of America in the elections held in the USA, ARZENU continues to be the leading partner in the strongest faction in the WZC, and has already succeeded in making changes that are binding on the world Zionist movement.  As a result, the official position of the WZO on many issues, from religious equality to the funding of settlements, is far more liberal and inclusive than it has ever been in the past.

Given the swing to the right in the recent Israeli general election, a strong voice for Progressive Judaism in the world Zionist forums is essential.

Many people are unaware that Progressive/Reform Judaism is the largest denomination of affiliated Jews in the world, with nearly two million members.  As a result of these recent events around the world, Progressive Jews will renew and strengthen their support for the growth of the movement in Israel, via the UIA Progressive Trust. They will also continue to battle for Israel to be a homeland for all Jews and to ensure that there is a strong, democratic, inclusive and anti-racist Israel.

For detailed information about the World Zionist Organisation, see video on ARZA’s website here.

About the author

Steve Denenberg

Steve joined Emanuel Synagogue as CEO in 2004 and, in 2008, he became  Executive Director of the Union for Progressive Judaism. He was formerly CEO of JewishCare (NSW), head of the Federal Jewish welfare organisations, and a consultant to not-for-profit organisations in Israel and Australia, Steve has a Bachelor of Social Work from the Hebrew University, Jerusalem, and post-graduate qualifications from the University of Essex and the Australian Graduate School of Management. He has volunteered for numerous organisations, including the Refugee Council of Australia, the Refugee Advice & Casework Service, the Association of Jewish Communal Professionals, ARZA and Emanuel School (as Board member, chairman and president).  Steve received the Centenary Award for services to the Jewish community, the aged, young people and people with disabilities.

The Jewish Independent acknowledges Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples as the Traditional Owners and Custodians of Country throughout Australia. We pay our respects to Elders past and present, and strive to honour their rich history of storytelling in our work and mission.

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