Left Wing Disruptions Marred the Event
By Elizabeth Berney, Esq.
The Zionist Organization of America (ZOA) praises the 13 delegates and three alternates on the ZOA Coalition slate who represented the ZOA Coalition at the 2023 extraordinary World Zionist Congress (WZC) meetings in Jerusalem from April 19-21. We are so proud of all our ZOA Coalition representatives for fighting for our positions strongly, intelligently and with dignity under incredibly trying circumstances. Our ZOA Coalition representatives at the WZC included leaders of ZOA, Aish HaTorah, the Russian-Jewish community and organizations, the Persian-Jewish community, the Syrian-Jewish community, One Israel Fund, Students Supporting Israel, Young Jewish Conservatives, Amariah, and more. Special kudos to ZOA Coalition delegate and Aish HaTorah leader Rabbi Steven Burg, who chaired the difficult Thursday evening and Friday morning plenary with tremendous grace while being shouted at by unruly leftists, one of whom ran up on stage and physically pushed Rabbi Burg. And special thanks to every ZOA Coalition slate member and voter. You gave us the strength to deal with a lot of issues, and were at the WZC in spirit.
Unfortunately, the 2023 WZC meetings and subsequent Jewish Agency meetings in Tel Aviv were marred by extremist left-wingers’ disruptions and wildly inappropriate behavior, including: shouting down speakers; trying to break into a private meeting with Knesset Constitution Committee Chair Simcha Rothman; banging on doors; walking out of the plenary; refusing to allow committee votes on proposed ZOA Coalition amendments; throwing my phone on the floor; the attack on Rabbi Burg; and voting fraud.
These left wing disruptions were the worst behavior we’ve ever seen at a World Zionist Congress. It was particularly shameful because Theodor Herzl – the founder of the World Zionist Congress in 1897, stressed the importance of dignified proceedings. People should act respectfully towards their fellow delegates, even while expressing their differing opinions.
The left wing disrupters also seemed to forget the life-and-death problems Israel faces, even though the same week was rocked by ever-present Palestinian Arab anti-Jewish terror. On the day that I arrived in Israel (Tuesday, April 18), Greater Philadelphia ZOA President Kevin Ross and I attended the shiva at Rabbi Dee’s home in Efrat, along with scores of people and soldiers from throughout Israel. Heartbreakingly, Rabbi Dee’s wife Lucy and his daughters Maia and Rina were brutally murdered by Arab terrorists. A major terror attack also occurred at the Machane Yehuda market during the trip. And my trip home was on Yom Hazikaron.
Here is some of what occurred at the WZC and Jewish Agency:
- The Chair of WZC Committee #6, meeting on the first day of the WZC (Wednesday), Arzenu (worldwide Reform Movement) Chair Lea Mühlstein – who chaired Committee #6 – refused to allow a vote on an amendment proposed by a ZOA Coalition member. Mühlstein also did the same thing during previous World Zionist Congresses. Our amendments were also not voted on elsewhere. Also, the left-winger running committee selection refused to put several of our delegates on the correct committees.
- During the World Likud faction meeting on the second day of the WZC (Thursday), left-wingers kept screaming right outside the door so loudly that we could barely hear one another speak. Ironically, when this racket started, World Likud leaders were telling everyone to not react to provocations from the Left.
- Left wing resolutions (which we fought against) were despicably (and sometimes deceptively) designed to remove religious Jews who love Israel from the World Zionist Congress; to oppose the will of the Israeli people and their democratically-elected government; and to increase unfair quotas. Virtually all of these resolutions also violated the WZC’s rule that resolutions this year could only be on the topic of Israel’s 75th anniversary.
- The Yesh Atid faction illegally “double dipped” by submitting both a resolution and a constitutional amendment, although the WZC rules only allowed each faction one resolution or one constitutional amendment. I brought this to leadership’s attention, but nothing was done about it. In addition, a leftist youth group that I heard was not entitled to submit a resolution did so.
- During what was supposed to be the plenary voting session late Thursday afternoon, many left-wingers obtained multiple voting devices. This was egregious voting fraud. (A member of a left wing youth organization later told us that his organization gave two voting devices to each of his organization’s delegates – which would have doubled their votes. Some folks had four voting devices.)
- Then factions on the Right filed petitions to have a roll call vote. A roll call vote would have prevented people from voting several times using multiple voting devices. A roll call vote would have taken many hours, but we were willing to stay there all night, if necessary. However, egged on by their leaders, many on the Left screamed “Busha, busha!” (Shame! Shame!) and walked out of the plenary. Under pressure, Mizrachi backed out of its petition. EHK then warned that it would file the same petition, after ZOA Coalition and Eretz HaKodesh obtained the signatures on this key petition.
- It ultimately became unnecessary to file the roll call petition (which would have breached voters’ confidentiality). Meretz (a far-left wing progressive faction) finally suggested holding an electronic vote after everyone went home, and only having a discussion of the resolutions the next morning. But, despite the fact that the suggestion about how to vote came from a far-left faction, the Left then falsely claimed that the right was preventing a democratic vote!
- The Friday morning plenary to discuss the resolutions was marred by frequent shouting down the chair (ZOA Coalition member and Aish HaTorah Chair Rabbi Steven Burg) and speakers, and someone running up on the stage and pushing Rabbi Burg. A woman ran up to me when I had the floor to speak, stood a few inches from me and screamed at me “you’re ruining everything.”
- Also on Friday morning, ZOA Coalition members and some others were invited to a private meeting with Knesset Constitution Committee Chair Simcha Rothman to discuss judicial reform. The Left somehow learned of our private meeting, ran over to our meeting room, and tried to break into the room. We had to hold the door shut. The Left, reportedly egged on by Arzenu Chair Lea Mühlstein, then riotously screamed at us from outside the room. Security and the police had to be called. Some folks on the Right also arrived and stood between the left wing rioters and the door, to stop the rioters from breaking into the room. Chairman Rothman took it all in stride, and commented that the Left has been treating him like ‘’public enemy number one.” Meanwhile, we were held hostage in the meeting room until security arrived to remove Chairman Rothman through another exit. The rest of us then filed out the front door, while the left wing rioters continued screaming at us. I started taking a video of the rioters. A woman on the Left (the same women who screamed at me while I was speaking at the plenary) then grabbed my phone and threw it on the floor. A short while later, the same woman admitted (on video) that she threw my phone on the floor and said that she did so because I wasn’t supposed to take a picture of her. (Afterwards, I went over to and complimented two American leftists on the fact that we have a civil personal relationship, despite our ideological differences – not like the mayhem happening at the WZC.)
- The Jewish Agency meetings on Sunday were marked by more left wing disruptions during a panel discussion on judicial reform, featuring Knesset Constitution Committee Chair Simcha Rothman (in favor of judicial reform) and two speakers opposed to judicial reform (Beiteinu MK Oded Forer and a Federation leader from Cleveland). Each time Chairman Rothman tried to speak, Arzenu Chair Lea Mühlstein and a young sidekick, Andrew Keene, stood up, made noise with groggers (noisemakers) and blew a whistle very loudly, making it impossible to hear Chairman Rothman. (The whistle was so loud that I had to hold my ears shut.) The audience, including those on all sides of the judicial reform debate, wanted to hear from Simcha Rothman, and cheered yes when the moderator asked who wanted to hear Simcha Rothman. But Arzenu Chair Mühlstein and Keene kept blowing the whistle and spinning their noisemakers. They finally subsided only after a ZOA Coalition friend told them “Keep it up. Keep it up. You’re antagonizing everyone.”
- Also at the Jewish Agency meeting on Sunday, there was a discussion with Israeli Minister of Diaspora Affairs Amichai Chikli. During the brief Q&A, I thanked Minister Chikli for telling U.S. Ambassador Tom Nides to “mind his own business” when Nides persistently interfered with Israeli domestic affairs, because the Vienna Convention on Diplomatic Affairs forbids diplomats from interfering with a host country’s domestic affairs. While I was saying this, some leftists hissed at me.
- During the trip, we also experienced the inconsiderate disruptions caused by judicial reform opponents. On Saturday night (April 22), roads around my hotel were closed off due to the demonstrators. Cars were unable to move. I had to walk with my suitcases through the demonstrators, while the demonstrators were banging drums at a deafening level and screaming “Dem-o-crat-zia! Dem-o-crat-zia!.” But, although the overwhelming majority of the demonstrators inconsiderately screamed and blocked the entire sidewalk, three women stopped and asked me if I needed help. I thanked them and said that I was just trying to get to my hotel.
- Also, on Sunday night, a ZOA Board member had to spend an hour and a half to get from his car to the WZC/Jewish Agency gala, due to demonstrators blocking his path and banging drums to the same “Dem-o-crat-zia” chant. The demonstrators did not even know that the judicial reforms would actually make Israel more democratic. (See “Israeli Judicial Reforms Are Good for Democracy and Rule of Law,” by Morton Klein and Elizabeth Berney, Jerusalem Post, Feb. 13, 2023.) People on all sides of the spectrum were also not informed as to what judicial reform is all about. I had several long discussions with people in the center and the Right, explaining the issue to them.
Fortunately, there were uplifting moments that I managed to fit in during my week in Israel – including praying at the Kotel; observing the groundbreaking medical and agricultural developments at Ariel University in Samaria; visiting Shilo in Samaria (where the Tabernacle rested for 369 years); singing Shabbat songs with World Likud faction members from throughout the world during our post-WZC Shabbat program; and spending time with old and new Zionist friends – including ZOA members who made Aliyah.
Unfortunately, the changes in the WZO Friday schedule caused the plenary speeches originally scheduled for that time to be canceled (including my speech about Israel’s Declaration of Independence, which I had spent days preparing). Please feel free to contact email@example.com if your group is interested in a discussion on Israel’s Declaration of Independence.
Reality: On Friday afternoon, after the WZC proceedings, another ZOA Coalition delegate (a Persian-Jewish community leader), her husband and I went to the Machane Yehuda market in Jerusalem, walked around, and ate delicious laffas and drank tea. It was a breath of fresh air. The market was full of beautiful Jewish families, enjoying the sunshine, pushing babies in strollers, and buying challah and nuts and other provisions for Shabbat. This is the real Israel, we thought:
Tragically, three days later, a few hours before Yom HaZikaron began, a Palestinian Arab perpetrated a car-ramming terror attack at the entrance to the Machane Yehuda market, injuring eight Israelis.
It’s so sad, that while Israelis are faced with deadly terror attacks every day, some of the left wing Jews at the WZC and Jewish Agency could not even treat their fellow Jews with a modicum of respect.
We are all in this together. As Benjamin Franklin observed: “We must all hang together, or, most assuredly, we shall all hang separately.”
Fortunately, many of us do seem to understand this. On the airplane coming back to the U.S., the El Al pilot announced that the siren for Yom HaZikaron was now being sounded in Israel, and that anyone who wished to do so could stand in honor of Israel’s thousands of fallen soldiers and victims of terrorism. In a moving show of unity, almost everyone stood up and bowed their heads in honor of our dear deceased soldiers and terror victims.