After sitting through three days of meetings with Diaspora leaders, one thing is clear. By and large, they do not realize the impact of allowing Shas, the Sephardic Haredi party, to come aboard as a member of the World Zionist Organization.

from The Forward:

Shas Breaks Old Taboo, Joins Zionists

Israel’s largest ultra-Orthodox political party is eliciting outrage from those to its right and a mix of anxiety and applause from those to its left after breaking a 113-year-old taboo and joining the Zionist establishment.

… The WZO accepted Shas’s request to join in late January, after the party met the requirement that its political platform incorporate principles from the WZO’s 2004 Jerusalem Program – essentially the mission statement of the Zionist movement – which includes the goal of “strengthening Israel as a Jewish, Zionist and democratic state.”

… Shas’s strength on the “inside” will be significant. It will receive around 45 of the 585 seats at the 36th World Zionist Congress in June. The WZO has a 50% stake in the Jewish Agency for Israel, a body that spends $100 million a year on “Jewish-Zionist” education in the Diaspora and has responsibility for sending Israeli emissaries to Jewish communities around the world. By virtue of their party’s representation in the WZO, Shas representatives will fill almost 5% of seats on Jewish Agency committees and on the agency’s Board of Governors.

In another article, Yom Leyom [Shas’s newspaper] took a swipe at the Jewish Agency, saying that it is imbuing young Jews with a “deficient” culture, and that the existing Haredi approach of staying out of the WZO would lead to “losing more and more souls.” Yom Leyom wrote of the need to curb the influence of Jewish Agency emissaries who are “undermining Torah” and pointed out the importance of its WZO membership in “stopping the Reform.” It outlined an explicitly outreach-driven agenda, writing: “All that we want to do is bring more and more Jews to their Father in Heaven.”