December 14, 2001
Hadassah accused of fielding two slates in elections for World Zionist Congress.
Stewart Ain - Staff Writer
Hadassah is illegally trying to field two slates of Hadassah leaders to the World Zionist Congress in June, according to the chairman of the committee overseeing the election of American delegates to the convention.
The official, Moshe Kagan, said he told representatives of one of the two slates that if the Hadassah leaders were not removed, he would disqualify the entire slate.
The organization fielding the slate, Bnai Zion, has appealed the ruling to a group of retired Israeli judges who rule on issues involving the election. Hadassah contends that the four past presidents and others on the Bnai Zion slate are not running as Hadassah officials but as members of Bnai Zion, since they belong to both groups. Critics say this is disingenuous and misleading, a case of political double dipping.
Registration for the election, held every four years, has been extended from Dec. 14 to Jan. 18 because the return address for registration forms was to a post office box in Washington involved in the anthrax contamination and closed for a time. Only 60,000 people had registered by the beginning of December, compared with 150,000 for the last election.
At stake is representation to the World Zionist Organization and, through it, to the Jewish Agency for Israel, whose budget of approximately $350 million translates into control of funds for religious, political and educational programs around the world.
Four years ago the American Reform movement staged an aggressive registration campaign that proved successful, resulting in a marked increase in funding for Reform projects.
According to new rules effective this year, Hadassah can automatically send 32 delegates to the World Zionist Congress without having them compete in the election. The American Jewish community gets to elect 145 delegates, or 29 percent of the 500 elected worldwide.
Marlene Post, a past president of Hadassah, said the organization sought the special status because the election cost Hadassah more than $1 million when it ran a slate of candidates four years ago.
"We can better spend that money on our Zionist work in Israel," she said.
Hadassah, the Women's Zionist Organization of America, is the largest women's organization and the largest Jewish volunteer group in the United States. As part of its agreement in receiving that special status, Kagan said, Hadassah agreed not to participate in the political process.
But he said Hadassah did just that when Bonnie Lipton, the group's national president, sent a letter to members advising them to vote for convention delegates and reminding them that Hadassah is part of the World Confederation of United Zionists, of which Bnai Zion is also a member.
Amy Goldstein, Hadassah's director of Israel, Zionist and International Affairs, defended the letter as educational, "informing our members of where we stand" and "encouraging people to vote."
Goldstein added that many Hadassah members also belong to Bnai Zion, and "if they choose as individuals to participate in another organization's slate, how can Hadassah say no?"
Post, one of the women running on the Bnai Zion slate, said she was asked to run as both a member of Bnai Zion and as co-chair of the Confederation.
"I am not participating in this election as a past president of Hadassah," she insisted. "If ARZA [the Reform movement's Zionist arm], where I am a life member, had asked me to be on its slate, I would have considered it. Nobody called. But Confederation invited me to be on the [Bnai Zion] slate. ... Hadassah belongs to this group and it is like us" in that it is not identified with a religious movement or political party.
She said all of the other Hadassah women on the slate with her are also members of the Confederation.
But Kagan said that when the agreement was made four years ago, Hadassah agreed that its leaders would not run on another slate. "And this has the wrong appearance," he said. "The spirit and promise are being violated."
Robert Golub, executive director of Mercaz USA, the Conservative movement's Zionist organization, which is itself fielding a slate of candidates, said he found a "certain level of disingenuousness on the part of Hadassah."
"It is clear that Bnai Zion chose these women to lead its slate not because of their involvement in Bnai Zion but because of their past leadership of Hadassah. These women are still active leaders of Hadassah, and Hadassah has already endorsed the Bnai Zion list in a letter to its members," he said.
Golub said Hadassah is seeking to "have its cake and eat it too" by trying to remain apolitical and outside the electoral process through its special arrangement, and at the same time to be "wholly involved in the political process through its connection with Bnai Zion."
He said "every organization is upset" and that Hadassah should have to choose between remaining apolitical or "return to being a political party and run in the election."
Golub said four of the first 10 Bnai Zion candidates are former Hadassah presidents and that Hadassah leaders fill about half of the next 10 slots.
Among the Hadassah leaders on the Bnai Zion slate in addition to Post are Charlotte Jacobson, Ruth Popkin, Bernice Tanenbaum and Karmella Kalmanson.
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