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Orthodox groups surge, progressives falter in World Zionist Congress election

After two months of voting and an unprecedented surge in participation, Orthodox and right-wing groups dramatically increased their share of American delegates to the World Zionist Congress, according to the results released Monday.

More than a third of delegates will belong to the Orthodox Israel Coalition and Eretz Hakodesh, groups that will push the Congress for more funding for religious schools. Only around one in 10 American Jews are Orthodox.

Because voter turnout was so high, nearly every established party increased its raw vote total, but only the Orthodox and conservative organizations substantially increased their share of the overall vote, and thus the number of delegates they will send to the Congress.

While the slate of the Reform movement, the most liberal of the three major branches of Judaism, once again finished in first place, their share of the vote declined from 39% in 2015 to 25% this time. The Conservative movement, the more centrist of the three denominations, also declined from 17% to 12%. And Hatikvah, the coalition of progressive Jewish organizations that targeted disaffected liberal Zionist voters in a new voter turnout campaign, more than doubled the number of votes it received, their share of the overall delegation only grew from 5% to 6%.

The congress, which meets once every five years in Jerusalem, oversees the spending of nearly $5 billion over five years toward Jewish causes in Israel and around the world, and appoints board members to other important Jewish organizations — like the Jewish Agency for Israel, the Jewish National Fund and the World Zionist Organization — that spend billions of dollars of their own.

Read our explanation of the Congress and descriptions of the parties here:

Interest in the election, which ran from January 21 to March 11, was higher this year than in decades. The American Zionist Movement, which organizes the elections, said there had been 123,000 votes, more than double the previous election and the highest number of votes since the current voting system came into place 30 years ago.

Much of that momentum came as a result of campaigning from Hatikvah, which recruited some of the Zionist left’s biggest figures to serve as first-time candidates, such as Rabbi Sharon Brous of IKAR in Los Angeles, National Council of Jewish Women CEO Sheila Katz and commentator Peter Beinart. In turn, conservative groups like Eretz Hakodesh and the Zionist Organization of America urged increased turnout among right-wing Jews in order to counter the expected gains from Hatikvah. The latter, it seems, was more effective.

In the 2015 election, the Reform movement received 39% of the American delegation, with the Conservative movement and the Orthodox Israel Coalition, the main Orthodox party, each getting 17% (roughly in line with Jewish affiliations with the major American denominations, though the Orthodox over-performed). This time, Reform got 25% and Conservative got 12%, while the OIC got 18%.

The most surprising result was from the new group Eretz Hakodesh, which got 16% and generally represented those on the politically and religiously conservative end of of the Orthodox spectrum. They were explicit in casting a vote not just in favor of their party, but against the liberal ones. “The Torah community must vote, to prevent values of the liberal movements from infiltrating the Torah atmosphere of Eretz Yisrael,” the group says on its website.

The United States will send 152 of the congress’s 500 delegates, around one-third of the total, with the number of delegates per party proportional to the results (so a slate that gets 10% of the vote gets 10% of the delegates). Israel will also send a third of the delegates, based on the results of the most recent Israeli elections, and the rest of the countries in the Jewish Diaspora also combine to comprise the final third.

Here are the raw preliminary vote numbers for each slate, along with the share of the vote:

Vote Reform: 31,500 (25%)

Orthodox Israel Coalition – Mizrachi: 21,698 (18%)

Eretz Hakodesh: 20,023 (16%)

MERCAZ USA: 14,666 (12%)

ZOA Coalition: 10,313 (8%)

American Forum for Israel: 8,132 (6%)

Hatikvah: 7,932 (6%)

Shas Olami: 2,046 (2%)

Kol Yisrael: 1,752 (1%)

Dorshei Torah V’Tziyon: 1,373 (1%)

Herut Zionists: 1,157 (1%)

Vision: 1,036 (1%)

Americans4Israel: 857 (1%)

Israel Shelanu: 769 (1%)

Ohavei Zion: 375 (1%)

Aiden Pink is the deputy news editor of the Forward. Contact him at [email protected] or follow him on Twitter @aidenpink

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