Zionist Congresses From the
Beginning of the State to Today
By David Mendelsson
This was the first Congress to be held in the State
of Israel and it opened symbolically with a gathering at Herzl's
grave in Jerusalem. This had been effected following the execution of
Herzl's last will and testament, in which he requested thatif
and when a Jewish State be established his remains be transferred
The central question debated at the Congress was the
definition of Zionist goals, given that the Basle program had been realized.
Congress passed the Jerusalem program, which defined
the future tasks of Zionism as:
consolidation of the State of Israel, the ingathering
of the exiles in Eretz Yisrael and the fostering of the unity of the
Questions also emerged concerning the relationship
of the new State with the Zionist Organization. The Congress adopted
a resolution calling on the State of Israel to recognize the WZO as
the representative body of the Jewish people in all matters that involved
the organized participation of Diaspora Jewry in the upbuilding of Israel.
In 1952 the Knesset acted
upon this resolution, when it passed the WZO and Jewish Agency for Israel
The Congress met in an atmosphere of growing anxiety
over the political and security situation on Israel's southern border.
- Congress discussed a variety of other issues including aliya,
settlement, fundraising and organization.
- A proposal was placed before delegates to eliminate party divisions
within the movement and instead have united delegations from each
Diaspora communitybut this was rejected.
The new President of the Zionist Organization and Chairperson
of the Jewish Agency was Nahum
One of the major issues at this Congress was the relationship
of the Government of Israel to the Zionist Organization. Ben-Gurion
had taken up this issue and leveled serious criticism at the WZO.
Other discussions included aliyah from Western countries,
and Jewish education in the Diaspora. Nahum
Goldmann was reelected as President of the WZO.
In his opening address to the Congress, Nahum
Goldmann called on the Zionist movement to take greater responsibility
for the situation of Diaspora Jewish communities. He called on the organization
to support Jewry in their struggle against spiritual decay and assimilation.
Certain political resolutions were passed at the Congress,
including a call on governments to halt arms supplies to Middle Eastern
countriesand a demand that the Soviet Union alleviate the situation
of its Jewish community. Nahum
Goldmann was reelected to the post of President of the WZO.
The Congress was held a year after the Six
Day War and in a united Jerusalem. For the first time,
youth delegations were present at the proceedings, including student
groups and the Aliyah movement. This reflected developments in the Jewish
world and in particular the large numbers of volunteers that arrived
in Israel prior to and immediately after the War. It was also noted
that the War had, for the first time, generated a significant immigration
to Israel from Western countries.
Within the context of discussions over aliyah, the
Congress accepted the decision of the government to establish the Ministry
of Immigrant Absorption.
The Congress also amended the Jerusalem program of
1951 which had defined Zionist goals. The new text read as follows:
The aims of Zionism are:
The unity of the Jewish people and the centrality of Israel
in its life;
the ingathering of the Jewish people in its historical homeland, Eretz
Yisrael, through aliyah from all lands; the strengthening of the State
of Israel founded on the prophetic ideals of justice and peace;
the preservation of the identity of the Jewish people through the
fostering of Jewish and Hebrew education and of Jewish spiritual and
the protection of Jewish rights everywhere.
The election of a new President of the WZO, following
Nahum Goldmann's resignation,
was deferred to the Zionist General Council which elected Ehud Avriel
to the position of Chairman and Aryeh
Louis Pincus to Head of the Executive.
A number of changes were implemented in the elections
to the Congress, amongst them:
- The abolition of the shekel, the payment of which had entitled
subscribers to membership of the WZO and voting rights in elections
to the Congress.
- The new system permitted the operation of a variety of electoral
systems in each territorial Federation, while, in Israel, the Knesset
elections were used to determine the respective size of the party
delegations to the Congress.
- Other changes included the acceptance of various international
Jewish bodies to the WZO such as the World Federation of
Sephardi Communities (although without full voting rights).
Amongst the issues discussed at the Congress were:
aliyah from Western countries;
the opening of immigration from the Soviet Union;
and Jewish education in the Diaspora.
Attempts to have Zionist office holders commit themselves
to aliyah after two terms of office (eight years) failed to win the
necessary support from delegates. However, it did place the ideological
question of Zionist fulfilment [hagshama] on the agenda
of the movement.
was reelected as Chairperson of the Zionist executive.
Six years had elapsed since the previous Congress,
during which time significant developments had taken place that affected
the Jewish world. Among these were:
- the rise of international terrorism;
- the Yom Kippur war;
- the increased isolation of Israel, highlighted by the United
Nations resolution equating Zionism
- the exodus of Jews from the Soviet Union and the struggle for
Jewish rights in that country;
- the election victory of the Likud in Israel's 1977 Knesset electionsthus
ending Labor domination;
- and the visit of Anwar Sadat to Jerusalem in the same year.
Whilst these events had an impact on the atmosphere
of the Congress, they were not a central part of its proceedings. Instead,
the major topic of debate focused on the question of religious pluralism
within the Zionist movement. Following heated discussion, the Congress
accepted the principle of religious equality for each of the religious
streams affiliated with the WZO. This meant that the recently affiliated
Reform and Conservative
synagogue movements were to be granted equal status.
Arye Dulzin* was elected Chairman of the Zionist Executive.
The major issues that engaged Congress were concerned
with Zionist organization and structure and a reassessment of its ideology.
In particular, the question of the WZO's relationship with the Jewish
Agency occupied the time of the Congress.
The non-Zionists (fund-raisers), who composed
50% of the Jewish Agency, hadfollowing the Caeseria Process
signed the Jerusalem Program, thereby announcing
their acceptance of the Zionist platform. In practice, this meant that
the Jewish Agency was to become involved in areas that had previously
been the domain of the WZOnamely aliyah and Jewish education in
the Diaspora. This trend was to intensify following the so-called Herzliya
process, which began after the Congress and recommended significant
changes in the organization, democratization and ideological orientation
of the WZO-Jewish Agency.
A number of the sessions of the Congress were stormy,
in particular the discussion devoted to the construction of Jewish
settlements in the West Bank/Judea & Samaria and Gaza regions.
The WZO Settlement Division had been associated with this work and certain
delegates wished to put an end to this activity. In the end, a resolution
was passed stating that Congress "agreed to disagree" on this
question. However, it was decided that a joint committee of the Government
and the WZO should discuss the exact locations of new settlements.
Arye Dulzin* was reelected Chairperson of the executive.
The Congress once again discussed the relationship
between Israel and the Jewish communities towards the Zionist organization.
It had been hoped that the gathering would conclude the Herzliya process
which expressed the growing influence of the Jewish agency fund-raisers
in restructuring, democratizing and reassessing the organization's ideological
goals. However, no major decisions were effected in this field.
Proposals were made for the election of a President
to the WZO, a position which had been left vacant since the resignation
of Nahum Goldmann in
1968. The attempt of the "Magishimim," (those who promised
to immigrate to Israel within a specified time) to be accorded special
status in the movement was discussed but not adopted. This was understood
as a rejection of the principle that Zionists should make a personal
commitment to aliya within a limited period.
former Israeli ambassador to the USA and Labor Knesset member, was elected
Chairperson of the Executive.
Zionist Congress, Jerusalem, 1992
The Congress met in the wake of initial changes in
the departments of the WZO, with the inauguration of a new structure,
which were upstaged by large-scale aliya from the USSR/Russian and Ethiopia
This was also a period of reduced contribution levels
from the UJA [JIA] due to recession in the USA and the West. Both aliyot
placed enormous strains on resources and facilities, and necessitated
change in Jewish Agency budget allocations; much of the Congress was
devoted to field trips to view projects. As a result, the divisive ideological
debates took second place to a unity of purpose and confirmation of
was re-elected Chairman of the Executive.
Legal proceedings against Simcha Dinitz placed the
Jewish Agency under a cloud, with serious delays in implementation of
democratization and structural changes.
Interim elections were held for a new Chairman, resulting
in the election of MK Avraham Burg, whoseeking a new definition
of the Agency's role, and faced with an insufficient budgetinaugurated
a radical plan of rationalization both within the Agency and WZO, as
well as vis-a-vis the Israeli Government. With the initiation of the
Oslo process, the hope is born that the Agency will also be able to
peddle back on many of its social and education projects, as the state
budget becomes less focused on defense.
Trying to find a contemporary definition of Zionism
in the cynical post -ism era of the global village vies for top priority
with the need to bridge the growing gap between Jews in Israel and the
Diaspora, especially of the young generation.
Thirty-Third Zionist Congress,
Amidst a feeling of achievement, the approach of
the Centenary of the First
and the Jubilee of the State of Israelis
marked by the escalation of processes of diversification and conflict
within Israeli society. The assassination of Yitzhak
the unacceptable and violent face of developmentscreates
political uncertainty; the ruling Labor Party loses the General Election
to the Likud and the Oslo Process becomes ever more unstable.
While Diaspora Jewish organizations within the Zionist
movement now exercise 50% of the vote in the Jewish Agency and similarly
the WZO [through the now operative Joint Authority for Jewish Zionist
Education], Israel finds itself less central to the overall Diaspora
agenda. The Zionist leadership and intellectuals across the different
streams attempt to analyze or define the nature and role of Zionism
at the change of the millennium.
The principle of religious pluralism figures high on
the agenda of the religious streams; however, it took a concerted effort
and much adroit negotiation by Chairman, Avraham
Burg, to arrive at a form of acceptance on this complex issue. At
this Congress a resolution was passed requiring at least 25% of Zionist
Congress delegates to be between 18-30.
Zionist Congress, Jerusalem 2003
This Congress was infused with fresh and young leadership,
as 25% of the delegation was under the age of 30. At this Congress,
the youth sent a message to the Zionist establishment that they too
are relevant to the Zionist enterprise -- and, in fact, are often on
the front lines on campuses, youth movements, and aliya. The first Congress
after the failure of the peace process, this Congress entitled "Solidarity
and Mutual Responsibility: The Jewish People and the State of Israel"
brought together Zionist groups from across the Zionist spectrum to
discuss the issue of Israel as a Jewish and Democratic state and to
look towards a new vision of Zionism.
The Zionist Congress concluded with a series of resolutions
reaffirming the centrality of Israel, the importance of immigration,
promotion of Jewish Zionist education, increased funding for youth movements,
coordinating the fight against anti-Semitism and Anti-Zionism and settling
the Negev and the Galilee.
Source: Joint Authority
for Jewish Zionist Education. 34th Zionist Congress written by Avi
Hein, a delegate at the Congress.