Ukraine is Preparing for the Election of Delegates to the World Zionist Congress
“Zionism – the face and masks.” “Mirages and the reality of the Promised Land.” “On the class essence of Zionism.” Books with such names were published in millions of copies on one sixth of the land, equating the national movement of the Jewish people with racism, chauvinism and almost fascism. In fact, everything is much simpler. And at the same time more difficult. About the role of immigrants from Ukraine in the formation of the Zionist movement, the impact of the World Zionist Organization (WZO) on the life of the Jewish diaspora and the upcoming primaries of the delegates from Ukraine to the 38th Zionist Congress – in an interview with the founder of the Zionist Federation of Ukraine (ZFU), co-president Vaad Josef Zissels and Executive Director of ZFU Elena Zaslavskaya.
– Zionism was born in Ukrainian cities … Josef, is there a grain of truth in this loud statement?
– Well, do not forget about Herzl. But at the same time, it was in Kharkov, Kremenchug and Odessa that the first Palestinophilian circles arose. And several dozen Kharkov students, shocked by the wave of pogroms that swept across Russia after the assassination of Emperor Alexander II , laid the foundation for the First Aliyah.
When the World Zionist Organization was created at the First Zionist Congress in 1897, Max Mandelstam, a doctor, the head of the Kyiv Society of Ophthalmologists, entered its Executive Committee.
Few people remember that in the elections to the councils of the Jewish communities of Ukraine in the spring of 1918 , the Zionists received 54.5% of the vote — it was they, and not the Bolsheviks, who were then the leading force of Ukrainian Jewry. Zionists dominated both the Jewish National Council of Ukraine and its board.
In 1917, one of the leaders of left Zionism, a native of the Zolotonosha Ber Borokhov, was elected to the Central Rada, and Odessa Zeev Zhabotinsky became the founding father of right Zionism. Add to this the two presidents and three prime ministers of Israel who were born in our latitudes – and the phrase about the homeland of Zionism does not seem meaningless.
Unfortunately, the official romance with Zionism was interrupted for the Jews of Ukraine for many decades. Only in 1989, the Jerusalem Congress of 1968, defining the basic principles of modern Zionism, was adopted by the first congress of Vaad of the USSR.
– Let’s talk about the practical side of the issue – the election of delegates to the World Zionist Congress.
– Since the late 1980s, we have been trying to integrate the Jewish community of Ukraine into a large Jewish world, one of the elements of which is the Confederation of United Zionists. I want to remind you that at the beginning of 1991, Vaad created the Repatriation Committee – the first such structure in Ukraine.
The Jewish communities of the world enter the WZO through their Zionist federations, so many years ago we established our own Zionist Federation – in other countries of the former USSR they arose much later, including in Russia.
В лагере «Шорашим»
Once every five years, the World Zionist Congress takes place, which is preceded by elections in each of the national communities. Five years ago, we held these elections for the first time – to fit the modus vivendi of the Jewish world.
Once the delegates from our communities participated in the First Zionist Congress, today we fill in the gaps created by the Soviet government, restoring the presence of Ukraine on the Jewish world map.
– Elena, how much does the World Zionist Congress affect the life of Israel and the Jewish communities in the diaspora today?
– The heads of departments of the World Zionist Organization are elected at the congress, which in turn determine the policy, including with regard to the diaspora. Therefore, the election of delegates from Ukraine, which will be held in Jewish communities from April to August, is not an empty formality.
Ukraine is taking part in such elections for the second time. In 2015, about ten thousand Jews voted, who elected seven delegates, who for the first time in history represented independent Ukraine at the World Zionist Congress. Note that Ukraine, the second (after the United States) country in the world where the real congressional elections were held, and the seats were not divided by standard “agreements”. Of course, elections are voluntary, therefore, for example, less than 60,000 – 1% of the six million American Jews participated in them . We had 10,000 voters – this is an excellent indicator, considering that approximately 200,000 people eligible for repatriation to Israel live in Ukraine .
The Executive Directorate of the SFU will provide the possibility of both electronic voting and voting by mail, a special call center will also be created where those wishing to vote will receive answers to any questions.
– Not everyone knows how the parties and movements have distinguished themselves over the past five years, for which Ukrainian Jews are offered to vote. How do voters learn about candidates’ activities and programs?
– Firstly, all Jewish organizations and communities of the country will receive a special issue of the SFU newspaper with programs of all movements and biographies of their candidates for the 38th Congress of the World Zionist Congress.
It is very important to understand that this is not a vote for a particular party. According to Ukrainian law, foreign political forces cannot campaign in Ukraine at all. Therefore, we are talking about Jewish community structures whose leaders represent one of the factions that are members of the GUS. For example, in Ukraine, the activities of the Conservative Judaism Movement (Masoret), as well as the Union of Progressive Judaism, are widely known – and there is a Zionist component in this activity – creating a positive image of Israel, acquaintance with modern Israeli culture, etc.
The Vaad of Ukraine represents the World Confederation of United Zionists (CBS) in our country and implements its community programs as part of its projects. For example, children and adolescents get acquainted with the history of Israel at the Shorashim camp, a master’s program in Jewish studies invites Israeli lecturers, and the Center for Jewish Education conducts seminars on the study of Hebrew. The Likud World Movement has chosen the United Jewish Community, etc., for its work in Ukraine.
– How interested is the GUS in the activity of the Jewish community of Ukraine, given that the organization’s budget is formed mainly in the USA and Western Europe?
– Perhaps, for the first time in the history of the WZO, it drew attention to our country, having allocated funds for holding an international conference on March 15, 2020, one of the goals of which will be the rehabilitation of the word “Zionism”, discredited by Soviet propaganda. This word does not mean the desire to “shove” all the Jews living in the Diaspora to Israel as soon as possible. Modern Zionism includes the support of the Jewish state by the Jews of the diaspora, the study of the history of Israel and its multifaceted culture, which has absorbed the features of all aliya waves that are so unlike each other.
The conference will be held on the basis of the National Tauride University, with which a memorandum of cooperation was concluded at SFU. One of the sections will be held entirely in Hebrew – interest in this language is growing in Ukraine, and not only from future repatriates. As speakers, we invite lecturers from leading Israeli universities. Within the framework of the conference, the exhibition “The State of Israel – Ukrainian Roots” will also be presented, a tour of which will be conducted by students.
To date, only four countries have “their” representative offices in the GUS – the USA, Argentina, Great Britain and France. One of our goals is to open another one – the Ukrainian representative office. The large and active Jewish community of Ukraine, always supporting its historical homeland, deserves this.
Interviewed by Victor Makovsky