Yes, There Is a World Zionist Congress – and It’s Meeting Now
I’m sometimes astounded at the fact that a major political movement over a century old is so little known among Americans – especially since it has had a momentous impact on the world in general and on the U.S. in particular, causing multiple wars, vast population displacement, and global instability.
In my travels around the US, I’ve found that most Americans know extremely little about Zionism. I would guess that the vast majority of Americans could not define the term (that was certainly my situation for most of my life), and that a great many may not have even heard of it.
And among those who have heard the term, many may think it refers to some antisemitic conspiracy theory.
The fact is, however, that Zionism – according to the dictionary, “a worldwide Jewish movement that resulted in the establishment and development of the state of Israel and that now supports the state of Israel as a Jewish homeland” – is both very real and extremely significant.
Zionism succeeded in establishing the state of Israel in 1948 after decades of sometimes open and sometimes covert efforts. It promoted a successful, though extremely false, slogan – “a land without a people for a people without a land” – and succeeded in perpetrating one of the major hoaxes of the 20th century, in which victims (indigenous Palestinians) were designated aggressors, and aggressors (Zionist colonists) were portrayed as victims (as documented by diverse authors, and perpetrated through the silencing of others).
And today this movement contains numerous powerful international entities (see the list below), while remaining largely invisible to millions of citizens of the country that gives Israel massive amounts of money, shields Israel internationally, and has fought at least one war (against Iraq) on Israel’s behalf.
The dictionary definition captures only the simplest meaning of the word, but not its deep impact: how Israel was established and what supporting Israel today enables.
As numerous historians have documented, Israel was established through a war of ethnic cleansing, in the words of a major Israeli historian, in which approximately 750,000 men, women, and children were violently expelled. Hundreds of villages were destroyed and much of the indigenous population was displaced, their ancestral homes and land confiscated and the former owners made into penniless refugees.
Today, in its pursuit of the Jewish identity mentioned in the definition, Israel continues to confiscate Palestinian land, actively discriminates against the remnants of the non-Jewish population that remain in the area, and holds the four and a half million people in the remaining portion of their land (the West Bank and Gaza), in two virtual prisons, their ability to leave and to return to their homes controlled by Israel.
Palestinian villages are invaded daily, people terrorized and abducted, homes and crops are regularly destroyed; for over a year there was a weekly mass demonstration during which Israeli forces shot unarmed demonstrators every week. (To see these actions go here.)
Zionist movement in the US – a century of activism
As I describe in my book, the Zionist movement in the U.S. began in the late 1800s and played a significant role in the events that led to the establishment of Israel.
Today the pro-Israel lobby is probably the most powerful and pervasive special interest group in the U.S. Its members have diverse views and sometimes sharply disagree with one another on aspects of the issue, but all share one goal: support for Israel.
Israel partisans have become extremely influential in both political parties and have obtained numerous US policies of support for Israel. Most recently, they are promoting bills to expend $19 million per day on behalf of Israel; altogether, 90 bills for Israel have been introduced in the current Congress alone. In addition, there is also considerable evidence that Israel partisans were central in pushing the US into invading Iraq, and that many are similarly active in demonizing Iran. (See this, this, this, and this.)
Since little of the above is known by the general American public (U.S. media rarely report any of this), some Americans are under the impression that even suggesting there is a “world zionist movement” is an antisemitic conspiracy theory. (In fact, even discussing the Israel lobby in the U.S. can be dangerous to reputations and careers. For example, respected professors John Mearsheimer and Stephen Walt were attacked as “antisemitic” for their scholarly work in detailing the power of the Israel lobby.)
The fact is, however, that the World Zionist Organization has been in existence since the late 1800s, and this is just one of a number of international organizations that work on behalf of Israel.
Moreover, all of these are very public – if one knows where to look. Currently, the World Zionist Organization is holding its 38th Congress in an online format from Israel. The Congress is convened every five years.
World Zionist Organization
While US mainstream media have largely failed to even mention this organization and event, it has been big news in the Israeli and Jewish-American press, with numerous stories leading up to the event. Below is an image from an article in the Jewish News of Northern California entitled “Your vote in Israel: Here are the Bay Area Jews running for the World Zionist Congress.”
The World Zionist Organization (WZO) was founded in 1897. It has an elaborate structure, including a World Zionist Congress, a Zionist General Council, a Zionist Executive, and a Zionist Supreme Court. It also has a department devoted to “repatriation” – encouraging Jews to leave their birth countries and move to Israel – and lists numerous affiliates and partners around the world.
Yesterday, the WZO convened its 38th Congress, with 720 delegates and observers from over 30 countries participating in a three-day conference. Based in Israel as usual, this year’s event is being held online because of the pandemic, and sessions are being synchronized with time zones in Israel, North America, Latin America, Europe, Australia, and South Africa. The World Zionist Congress allocates about a billion dollars a year to various projects and is popularly known as the “parliament of the Jewish people.”
The Israeli Jerusalem Post newspaper reports that during the Congress “elections will take place for the leadership positions of the National Institutions – the World Zionist Organization, Keren Kayemeth Le’Israel (Jewish National Fund-JNF), and Keren Hayesod [aka United Israel Appeal: “the preeminent worldwide fundraising organization for Israel, which was established in London in 1920, to serve as the fundraising arm of the Jewish People and the Zionist Movement]. Current issues on the world Jewish agenda will be deliberated…”
Among the issues to be deliberated will be how to “allocate nearly $5 billion to Jewish organizations and programs in Israel and around the world.”
The event is being live-streamed and can be viewed here.
Additional Zionist organizations:
The WZO is far from the only organization with “Zionist” in its title. Among the others are:
Women’s International Zionist Organization (WIZO): founded in 1902, it currently has 250,000 members around the world.
Mizrachi, the global Religious Zionist movement: “Mizrachi is the global Religious Zionist movement, spreading Torat Eretz Yisrael across the world and strengthening the bond between the international Jewish community and the State of Israel.” It was founded in 1902, is based in Jerusalem and has branches across the globe. It opposes the international movement supporting Palestinian rights known as BDS. It says the Mizrachi Global Summit was held on October 18th.
Zionist Organization of America: “Founded in 1897, the Zionist Organization of America (“ZOA”) is the oldest pro-Israel organization in the United States.” It has 25,000 members and chapters throughout the U.S.
Hadassah, the Women’s Zionist Organization of America: Over a century old, it says its vision is to “strengthen a connection to Israel.” It says it is “the largest women’s Zionist membership organization in the United States. It inspires a passion for and a commitment to its partnership with the land and the People of Israel.” (Ruth Bader Ginsburg was a lifelong member.)
American Zionist Movement: “AZM works to promote and defend Zionism in the United States; to deepen and expand the active relationship of the American Jewish Community to Zionism in a contemporary context; to facilitate dialogue and collaboration among Zionist organizations through and with the AZM; and to be the central hub for Zionist resources in America.”
(An interesting bit of history is that “Zion” was one of the names Zionist leaders considered in 1948 for the new state, before they finally settled on the name “Israel.”)
Still more Zionist organizations
There are also a number of other major international organizations that work for Israel. Virtually all of these organizations have large staffs, elaborate structures, and multi-million dollar budgets.
Their websites provide an abundance of information about their global reach and diverse activities. Many openly state that they work to oppose the international movement to boycott Israel, which has been organized because of Israel’s long documented human rights abuses. Known as “BDS” (Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions), the movement “upholds the simple principle that Palestinians are entitled to the same rights as the rest of humanity.”
Below is a partial list:
• World Jewish Congress (WJC) is another international congress that supports Israel. According to its website, the WJC “represents Jewish communities and organizations in 100 countries around the world. It advocates on their behalf towards governments, parliaments, international organizations and other faiths.”
The WJC represents significant global wealth. Its annual gala held in New York last year was, as I wrote in a detailed article, attended by billionaires, Russian oligarchs, Ukrainian ambassadors, international financiers, the Rothschilds, and assorted other glitterati.
• World Holocaust Forum is another international entity that supports Israel. It is held in Israel and was founded and run by Russian-Israeli oligarch Viatcheslav Moshe Kantor. Last year, at least 45 world leaders attended his fifth event. Israel’s Ha’aretz newspaper called it “an airlift of presidents, prime ministers and royalty from around the world.” Kantor, a billionaire known for unscrupulous business practices, is president of the European Jewish Congress and heads up a network of pro-Israel international entities.
In an interview for a Zionist publication, Kantor was asked: “Why are you so interested in Holocaust education and in creating big events to memorialize the Holocaust?” Kantor answered:
The Holocaust was an essential tool used to bring about the establishment of the State of Israel. In 2006, it is the most effective tool we have to fight against anti-Semitism and to protect Israel.”
• American Jewish Committee (AJC), despite its name, is yet another international organization. It has 30 offices around the world in Europe, Africa, Latin America, Asia-Pacifiic, and Israel. It also has numerous regional offices throughout the US.
• Jewish Agency for Israel has been in existence for 90 years, has branches around the world, and encourages people to move to Israel. It has a branch in the US where donations to it can be deducted from U.S. taxes. It states that it works to oppose BDS.
• B’nai B’rith International has been in existence for 175 years and had a connection to Israel from the state’s earliest years. Like many of the organizations, it periodically works to prevent events supporting Palestinian rights.
• Maccabi World Union, headquartered in Israel, spans five continents, is in 80 countries, has 450 clubs, and 450,000 members. Its website says it’s “a Zionist organization that utilizes sports as a means to bring Jewish people of all ages closer to Judaism and Israel.” It has a multitude of programs focused on Israel and works to “fight BDS.”
• Jewish National Fund was founded in 1901 and played a major role in transferring Palestinian land to Israel. It is holding its national conference right now (video here). Like many of these entities, it has a presence in the U.S. and has acquired tax deductible status.
• World Union of Progressive Judaism, headquartered in Israel, serves 1,200 congregations with 1.8 million members in more than 50 countries. It passed a resolution saying that the organization and its congregations “will act against public and political measures meant to question the legitimacy of the existence of Israel as a Jewish and democratic state, including against the BDS Movement.”
• World Union of Jewish Students partners with the WZO and represents Jewish students in 55 countries, with 225 branches around the world. It holds an annual World Union Jewish Student Congress in Israel. One of its commitments is to oppose BDS.
This list could go on and on and on…
What does this all mean and not mean?
The reality is that there are a great many well-funded, well-organized, often quite powerful organizations working internationally in support of Israel and, as part of this, against Palestinian rights.
While I haven’t attempted here to delve into the organizations’ budgets and the wealth of their benefactors, there is no doubt that the combined total represents many billions of dollars. Yet U.S. media rarely tell Americans about this powerful, extremely significant network of international organizations that promote Israel and work to block efforts on behalf of Palestinian human rights.
At the same time, it is important to remember that these organizations, despite some of their names, do not represent all Jews.
While Zionists tried from the earliest days of their movement to conflate Zionism with Judaism – and fooled many people into believing the two were synonymous – for decades most Jewish Americans did not support Zionism, many Jews in Palestine itself opposed it, and today there are many Jewish Americans and others around the world who are critical of Israeli actions.
In addition, some – perhaps many – of the members in the organizations listed above may be deeply uninformed about what the Zionist movement did in the past and is currently enabling against Palestinians.
They’re constantly told about rockets from Gaza, but don’t learn about the massive Israeli violence that preceded these largely home made projectiles and the Israeli weaponry that vastly exceeds their extremely small impact (for the facts go here).
They hear about Arab armies declaring war on the newly declared state of Israel, but they don’t learn that Zionist forces had already committed numerous grisly massacres, had pushed out massive numbers of Palestinians, and were working to dispossess an entire population.
While there have been numerous reports through the years documenting Israeli human rights violations and Israel’s systemic discrimination, the members of these groups either do not know of these findings, or are told they are the work of “antisemites.”
The fact is that these organizations, with their large budgets and often very slick programs, specifically work to inculcate their membership with myths about Israel and falsehoods about the current reality. (Sadly, as mentioned above, they are often assisted in this by U.S. media that largely give us Israel-centric reporting and spin, while often omitting essential facts.)
It is time that more Americans learn the facts about the Zionist movement.
It is time for all Americans – of all faiths, races, and ethnicities – to join together to oppose a chauvinistic, deeply damaging international movement that has caused untold tragedy and harm. The devastation this movement has caused hasn’t been limited to Palestine. It has spilled over into the entire Middle East and North Africa, stretched into Europe, and damaged the U.S. It has caused wars, global destabilization and potential catastrophe.
It is not antisemitic to speak out about world Zionism. It is obligatory.
Feature photo | The first Zionist Congress, held in Basel, Switzerland in 1897.