What is the World Zionist Congress? An Interview with Mati Cohen

“At Basel, I founded the Jewish State. If I say that today, everyone would laugh at me. Perhaps in fifteen years, certainly in fifty, everyone will recognize this truth” – Theodore Herzl Diary entry (3 September 1897), a few days after the First Zionist Congress in Basel, Switzerland,

What is the World Zionist Congress?

The World Zionist Congress, founded in 1897, by Theodore Herzl, in an effort to realize the 2000 year old desire to reestablish the state of Israel as an independent nation, is the supreme organ of the World Zionist Organization (WZO) and its legislative authority. It elects the officers and decides on the policies of the WZO and the Jewish Agency. The first congress was held that year in Basel, Switzerland. Their goal was to build an infrastructure to further the cause of Jewish settlement in the mandate of Palestine. They did this through the creation and funding of institutions, such as the Jewish National Fund, and initiatives which promoted development, immigration, and settlement in the British mandate. Following the establishment of the State of Israel, the congress has met nearly every 5 years in Jerusalem, and continues to maintain and govern the institutions it created in order to actualize the Zionist dream.  The World Zionist Congress works to ensure the quality and productivity of the entire institution of Zionism through its governance of the three most significant entities in the Jewish Diaspora: The World Zionist Organization, The Jewish Agency, and the Jewish National Fund.

Why should we care about their current elections?

It is very important that everyone votes in this election. The current election is significant as it will restructure the congress for the first time in 10 years. This is necessary as it will contribute a new generation’s voice to the conversation, and for the first time has utilized social media in the election process. The United States makes up 29% of the 500 delegates to the congress, the second largest delegation after Israel, and every Jew over the age 18 is eligible to vote. Because of the significant presence of the United States’ delegation the voting power of an American Jew is therefore more influential than those outside the US. With a single vote, you can affect the future of the Zionist movement on a meaningful level. The parties that have representation in the congress will vote and shape the policies and legislative decisions of the congress.  I find this amazing as everyone says how much they want to shape the current climate and perception that surrounds Israel in the Diaspora and will go through lengths to try to make a difference and here, we have an opportunity, with a single vote.

What is your party and what do they represent?

I am a candidate with the Zionist Spring, the only pluralistic and non-denominational party running in the WZC. The Zionist Spring is made up of candidates from varying political and religious backgrounds within the Jewish community. The goal is to represent a unified front in order to turn away from ideological infighting, which is prevalent in the congress, and instead focus on strengthening the WZC as an institution that Jews around the world can once again look towards to discuss and advance pluralistic Zionism now and for the future. This is done through unifying the congress and the Jewish community over shared goals and visions. As long as we have a congress divided over ideological lines, we cannot face the imminent issues facing the Diaspora and the State of Israel. We want to see a strong unified Jewish community engaged in the future of the State of Israel, and a strong Israel engaged in the concerns of the Jewish Diaspora. Especially with the rise of anti-Jewish sentiment around Europe and the world, we need a Jewish Agency which is better equipped to assist communities. We need a WZO that can productively educate and equip global Zionist groups with the information and approach they need to counter Jew hatred and hatred directed at the state of Israel. Once we have tackled the pressing issues and have strengthened the congress as an institution, we can tackle the nuances in ideological differences. The Zionist Spring is endorsed by Hadassah, Young Judea, World Confederation of United Zionists, Baltimore Zionist District, and Bnai Zion.

Why do you think you would be a good delegate?

I have been involved with a wide range of Zionist organizations, from the conservative Zionist Organization of America (ZOA) to the progressive Habonim Dror and this has enabled me to develop a comprehensive Zionist narrative, which I believe is essential in order to discuss Zionism and understand the obstacles the movement faces on a pluralistic level. I would bring this comprehensive narrative to the congress with the intention of working towards unifying my colleagues under common objectives. I also intend to use my understanding to shift the conversation regarding Zionism, Diaspora Jewry, and Israel in a better direction and with new approaches to deepen the collective narrative of the decision makers who will in turn shift the reality and climate on the ground, such as campuses. One issue in particular would be the fostering of new conversations in regards to Zionism in which the history, past and modern definitions and objectives, and what we believe the future is for the movement, and in turn implementing them into the core curriculum of WZO funded programs. The Jewish world has for too long shied away from the term ‘Zionism’ and this has contributed to the negative attitudes we see towards Israel; the Jewish community must reclaim Zionism, as we are seeing at UCLA, on a global scale, and the WZC is the institution that can make this happen.

What do you see as the future of Zionism?

Modern Zionism has been successful in liberating the land of Israel and returning the Jewish people to national sovereignty. Yet the Zionist movement has not yet provided the space to liberate the mind of the Jewish people in terms of seeking the next stage in the advancement of Zionism. As a people we have not yet come together to decide where we will go from here now that we have our state. We need to start this conversation. My vision is to see an empowered Jewish people, and state of Israel, that through a strengthened national consciousness and “Zionist Spring”, will actualize itself as a world leader, excel in global industries and fields of study, eliminate its susceptibility to foreign pressure, and in so doing will be able to freely identify and fulfill the next stage of our nation’s development.


mati newMati Geula Cohen is the founder of the Young Jewish Zionists, and a candidate for the World Zionist Congress. Endorsed by Russell F. Robinson, Jimmy Delshad, Elan Carr Marvin Markowitz, and Judea Pearl. You can vote for him, by voting for Zionist Spring at https://myvoteourisrael.com/

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