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Zionism: World Jewish Congress (WJC)

The World Jewish Congress (WJC) is a “voluntary association” of “representative Jewish bodies, communities, and organizations” throughout the world, organized to “assure the survival, and to foster the unity of the Jewish people” (arts. 1 and 2 of its constitution). The central Jewish communal bodies and major representative organizations of more than 60 countries belong to it. Its immediate aims are to coordinate the common interests of its member organizations; to defend the rights, status, and interests of Jews and Jewish communities; to encourage and assist the creative development of Jewish social and cultural life throughout the world; and to act on behalf of its member organizations before governmental, intergovernmental, and other international authorities with respect to matters which concern the Jewish people as a whole (art. 2 of the constitution). The organization does not intervene in the domestic political affairs of any country (art. 3). Only democratic bodies which remain autonomous are entitled to membership, which will be granted, as a general rule, to only one representative national Jewish body of any country (art. 4). A plenary assembly is the supreme authority of the Congress (art. 5), and an executive committee and a governing council conduct the affairs of the organization (art. 8).


The origin of the concept of the World Jewish Congress may be found in the early cooperative efforts by Jewish communities around the world in religious, legal, political, and relief matters. The origin of the World Jewish Congress can be traced to ideological developments within the American and European Jewish communities during and after World War I. In 1919 the Comité des Délégations Juives was established , led by Leo Motzkin, and, after three preparatory conferences, the first World Jewish Congress convened in Geneva, Switzerland, in 1936. 280 delegates represented the Jews of 32 countries under the leadership of Stephen Wise and Nahum Goldmann.

Policy and Action

The history of the World Jewish Congress is involved in the most tragic period of contemporary Jewish life – Nazi barbarism, rescue attempts, and relief and rehabilitation programs. The World Jewish Congress played a central role in the creation of Jewish policies with regard to the peace treaties, the prosecution and trial of Nazi war criminals, the adoption of a scheme of indemnification and reparations for Jewish victims of the Holocaust, and the rehabilitation of Jewish life in the years after the war.

Action on behalf of Jewish communities exposed to particular dangers, like those of Eastern Europe and Arab countries; relations with non-Jewish religious bodies; the fight against neo-Nazism and anti-Semitism; representation before international organs (the United Nations, UNESCO, regional intergovernmental organizations, and others); and, above all, the preservation of the identity of Jewish communities in view of the increasing trend to assimilation, are on the agenda of the different departments of the WJC. It maintains four branches of its executive – in North America, South America, Europe, and Israel – as well as a research branch, the Institute of Jewish Affairs, formerly in New York and presently in London, to execute its policies and direct its activities.

In 1981, Edgar M. Bronfman was elected president of the World Jewish Congress. Under his leadership through the early years of the 21st century the WJC was in the forefront of the struggle for Soviet Jewry, the campaign to expose the Nazi past of Kurt Waldheim and achieve moral and material justice for victims of the Holocaust and their heirs, and the fight against anti-Semitism and right-wing extremists like Jorge Haider as well as defense of Israel in the international arena.


Institute of Jewish Affairs, Unity in Dispersion (1948); N. Robinson, The United Nations and the World Jewish Congress (1955); Institute of Jewish Affairs, The Institute Anniversary Volume (1962); World Jewish Congress, From Stockholm to Brussels (1966); S.S. Wise, Challenging Years (1949), passim.

[Natan Lerner]

Source: Encyclopaedia Judaica. © 2007 The Gale Group. All Rights Reserved.