Talk to Scott Dubin, and he sounds like any other political wonk.
The World Zionist Organization campaign coordinator for ARZA, the Reform Movement’s Zionist arm, is fixated on getting as many votes as possible for his movement in the upcoming WZO elections.
The WZO’s 35th Congress will be held in Jerusalem in June, and he is dead set on getting his movement as many delegates to that congress as possible.
Those delegates are important for Dubin and for ARZA because the 500-member congress will elect the Executive of the Jewish Agency for Israel, as well as its treasurer, And those are crucial power positions, considering that the Jewish Agency distributes the $300 million or so that that will come to Israel from the diaspora for social service programs in the next year.
It’s especially important for the Reform movement because it lobbies JAFI each year for money to build infrastructure in Israel for its movement.
Of the 500 delegates, roughly 145 will come from various American Zionist and religious movements. Twelve movements, such as ARZA, the Religious Zionist Movement, the Conservative movement’s MERCAZ, and the Jabotinsky party HERUT, have slates in the parliamentary-style American election, which ends Feb. ‘8. Each slate has dozens of names of potential delegates for the congress, and each slate will send the percentage of delegates to the congress that it wins in the election. If a slate, for instance, wins 50 percent of the vote, it gets to send half the delegates.
At the last Congress, in ’00’, ARZA had the largest contingency at 4′ percent, followed by MERCAZ, then the Religious Zionists. Dubin is fanatical when he talks about his movement’s desire to send 5′ percent of the American delegates to Jerusalem, because of the 500 delegates, the American contingency is the biggest, and those delegates will also vote on important WZO constitutional issues and set its agenda. He estimates that he has 1,000 volunteers throughout the country working on getting out the vote.
"Jews from all over the world can participate in a democratic way to make decisions about the State of Israel," said Dubin. "And those decisions will influence how Israel grows."
Theodor Herzl founded the WZO in 1897, at the First Zionist Congress in Basel, Switzerland, to give a voice and a face to the pre-state Zionist movement. The congress met at first every year, then biannually, then every four years, then sporadically after the creation of Israel. It now meets every four years.
When the WZO created the Jewish Agency in 19’9, the two groups became partners, with the WZO acting as the fund-raising arm and the Jewish Agency carrying out the practical work of state-building.
The WZO, according to its constitution, now makes up 50 percent of the Jewish Agency’s board of directors, while the United Jewish Communities and Keren Hayesod, the Jewish National Fund, make up the rest.
While the Jewish Agency has become the dominant partner, and the WZO’s budget has shrunk to roughly $13 million a year, its major functions are diaspora Israel education and these elections.
But participation in the elections has dropped significantly, according to Karen Rubinstein, the director of the American Zionist Movement, the American branch of the WZO. In 1997, only 107,000 American Jews voted in the election, and the number dropped to 88,000 in ’00’.
Mail-in registration for the election which is open to all American Jews- ends Sunday, while online registration ends Feb. 15. Rubinstein said late last month that only 40,000 Jews had registered.
She attributes the drop to several factors a cut in the budget for the elections from $1.5 million in 1987 to $900,000 this year, as well as a misunderstanding whereby some people who voted in ’00’ assume that they are already registered for this election.
In an attempt to invigorate the election, the WZO has required that one of every five names on each slate be a person younger than 30. When the vote has been determined, delegates are added to the congress in the order on which their names appear on their party slates.
The slates have scores of participants from northern New Jersey, and the drop in registration hasn’t curbed their enthusiasm.
"We represent a non-religious party, that has the philosophy that we should go to Israel and try to make the world a better place for Jews without requiring people to belong to a certain political party," said Mel Parness of Cliffside Park, who is running on the Dor Zion slate. Dor Zion is the combination of two other groups, the World Confederation of United Zionists and Bnei Zion, of which Parness is the head.
Dor Zion has a special stake in the election because one of its express purposes is to try to re-instill worth to the WZO election, because it feels that Israel’s government should be left to run on its own without pressure from outside Jewish influences.
"I think the WZO should be the parliament of the Jewish people. The Jewish people all over the world have an interest in what goes on in Israel, and should be able to express it so the government of Israel hears them," he said. " But they should not be sitting over there [in the U.S.] determining what Israel does."
For more information about the WZO, and to register to vote, visit www.azm.org.
JTA contributed to this report