As is customary, the Congress convened with a festive opening, addressed by the president of Israel, currently Moshe Katsav, Mayor Lupolianski of Jerusalem, and Chairman Bielski of the Jewish Agency and the World Zionist Organization. In the next days, plenary sessions were separately addressed by Prime Minister Olmert and the Knesset opposition leader, Benjamin Netanyahu.
In contrast to Pres. Katsav, who refused to address a Reform rabbinical leader present as a “rabbi,” Olmert addressed him reverentially as “rabbi and teacher.” This was a symbolic matter, but must be regarded, along with Olmert’s alliance with Mercaz (Conservative Jews) as significant for the status of non-Orthodox religious movements within Israel.
A dramatic plus for the Congress was the passage of a resolution favoring the establishment of civil marriage and divorce. The Congress also went on record as approving more equitable treatment for Israel’s Arab citizens. These breakthroughs counter anti-Zionist views that regard Zionism as theocratic and inherently racist.
Meretz failed, however, in winning passage for a resolution to enforce the findings of the Sasson Commission of the illegal use of the World Zionist Organization’s Settlement Division as a conduit for funding unauthorized West Bank settlement outposts. Meretz had attempted to get the Congress to go on record as mandating the Settlement Division to only work within the pre-1967 Green Line boundaries of Israel.
In the process, Gavri Bargil, co-head of the Kibbutz Movement and a former shaliakh based in New York, was personally escorted off the stage by the young Kadima MK who presided over the Congress as its president. After first being recognized to speak on behalf of the Meretz resolution, Gavri attempted to respond to an ensuing vitriolic attack on Meretz by Shlomo Gravitz, an elderly and well-known right winger who has headed the Settlement Division. Gavri had wished to correct Gravitz’s accusation that this resolution violated Meretz’s own commitment in signing the “wall-to-wall coalition” agreement that Kadima run the Settlements Division; yet the Meretz resolution only sought to ensure that the Settlements Division work within the Green Line.