What the 37th World Zionist Congress means for the World of Jewish Philanthropy

By Rachel Moore

Last week, hundreds of Jews from around the world and from every political and religious affiliation gathered in Jerusalem for the 37th World Zionist Congress, which now meets every five years in Jerusalem. The delegates elect leaders to key positions within the World Zionist Organization (WZO) and Keren Kayemeth LeIsrael – Jewish National Fund (KKL-JNF), debate pressing matters in the world of Zionism today, as well as propose and vote on resolutions that impact both governance and policies for the World Zionist Organization in the coming years.

There were many resolutions passed. They ranged from statements about Israel’s domestic and political policies, programmatic changes in Israeli education, approaches to Hebrew instruction outside of Israel, Aliyah, Jewish holy sites and more.

Among the resolutions passed were three of significant relevance to the world of Jewish philanthropy. Two of them represent an insistence for greater transparency within both KKL-JNF and the WZO so that constituents will have greater access to financial records and spending decisions in the future. The accountability over allocation of funds will affect all delegates, and will require a greater time investment to monitor. This may have far reaching ramifications at the next Congress time, as delegates will be able to draw further conclusions based on new information.

The second issue was that of direct fundraising by the World Zionist Organization. In the past, the World Zionist Organization has received its funds from The Jewish Agency and Keren Kayemet L’Yisrael-JNF. Several years ago several decisions were made that significantly altered the relationship between The Jewish Agency and WZO. From a funding perspective the most significant was to halt The Jewish Agency’s allocation to the WZO. There are still pending questions about future funding of WZO by KKL*.

Since the last World Zionist Congress, the WZO increased its budget to $40 million per annum, which came from KKL and different ministries within the Israeli Government to support specific programs. As the WZO moves forward with its new administration, which includes new paid positions on the Executive, it is not clear what the 2016 WZO budget will be nor where the funding will be found. New fundraising efforts as mandated by a Congress resolution may have to become a major portion of the WZO operating budget. If the budget shortfall is significant – even if only until new fundraising efforts are successful – many institutions and projects will be directly affected in a significant way.

Presumably, the World Zionist Organization’s taking on the challenge of raising funds will increase more than ever the need for local Zionist Federations around the world. Bodies like the American Zionist Movement may, have to adopt this new role on the WZO’s behalf. Organizations within the World Zionist Congress, such as Mercaz, ARZA and the ZOA already spend a great deal of time fundraising for their own organizations. Their supporters will need education and strong reasoning to support yet another donation for the Zionist cause. This is one of the many ways in which local Zionist federations will have to forge a new role.

A new fundraising initiative by the WZO will undoubtedly have an additional outcome: everyone involved in the Zionist enterprise will need to “up their game.” With a new hand out for donations, a new cause and the WZO’s deep need for a new source of revenue, everyone involved with Zionism will have to work harder. This may necessitate a whole new push for branding, but even more so, true soul searching about what the WZO stands for today and why it is (or should be) meaningful to Jews around the world. While that presents a tremendous challenge, it may prove to be the best change of all.

*A recent Knesset law was passed that may change the ability of “parent” nonprofit organizations to receive funding from those organizations under them. It remains to be determined how this will impact KKL-JNF and the WZO.