Meretz USA’s delegation of a half dozen delegates and alternates attended the World Union of Meretz meetings in Tel Aviv, June 16-18, followed by the World Zionist Congress, June 19-22, in Jerusalem’s convention center. The total international Meretz faction mustered about 34 delegates, with two alternates per delegate, and included one Reconstructionist delegate and two alternates from the United States — about ten percent of the Congress total. When counted with the international union associated with the Labor party, with whom we agreed (as customary) to sit as a unified group, we constituted one of the three or four largest factions.
What differed in this Congress from those in the immediate past — which convenes approximately every four years — is that there was a strong center and a weakened political right. This was achieved by the sudden emergence of Kadima as a major presence, with its 30 seats in the Knesset entitling it to 60 delegates in the Congress, further reinforced by the seven MKs of Gil (the Pensioners party) contributing 14 delegates and the addition of the Mercaz (the religious Conservative movement, having elected over 20 percent of US delegates), plus the Greens and one other small group.
Mercaz representatives were identifiable by wearing blue or white versions of a knitted kipah, decorated with a repeated rendering of the Hebrew letter Mem. Together, this Kadima-Mercaz centrist coalition outnumbered the 90 delegates of the Mizrachi (Orthodox) movement, the single largest faction.
The Kadima alliance with Mercaz was something of a bold move by Prime Minister Olmert, who weathered criticism from Orthodox elements for doing so. Olmert was quoted as characterizing Masorti/Conservative Judaism as being moderate and “centrist” like Kadima.
ARZA, the Zionist arm of Reform Judaism, lost ground from the previous Congress, mainly because its erstwhile Israeli ally, the Shinui party, went down in flames from its prior Knesset presence of 15 seats to oblivion. By the same token, the right lost ground because of the fall of Likud in the last Israeli election from 40 seats to 12 — although some of this ground was made up for by the increased strength in the Knesset of Yisrael Beitenu.
On the substance of the Congress, the deliberations and passing of resolutions, the results were a mixed bag. Meretz failed to get the Congress to vote to explicitly reorient the activities of the Settlement Division solely to projects within the Green Line, although the Congress appeared mostly to favor projects within the Galil and the Negev.
Meretz also failed to gain Congress recognition and support for “free Judaism,” a secular perspective that regards Judaism as culture. Meretz reminded ARZA and Mercaz delegates that it has long supported their right to full participation and support of the World Zionist Organization in a shared commitment to pluralism. A Reform delegate responded that this was “not the time” for their support, however, leaving the impression that non-Orthodox movements are jealous of sharing limited money resources with another Jewish philosophical stream.
Stay tuned for more….