World Zionist Organization


World Zionist Organization
(WZO)
   The official organization of the Zionist Movement founded at the initiative of Theodor Herzl at the first Zionist Congress in Basle, Switzerland, in August 1897. The WZO conducted the political, economic, and settlement activities leading to the establishment of Israel. The right of membership in the WZO was accorded to every Jew who subscribed to the organization's program—the Basle Program—and who paid the one shekel dues. Each shekel holder who was at least 18 years of age was entitled to elect delegates to the Zionist Congress or to be elected to the congress once having had attained the age of 24. Over the years, the center of the Zionist Movement was shifted from place to place until it was transferred permanently to Jerusalem. Since 1952, the WZO has functioned in the framework of the Status Law. In 1960, various changes were introduced in its constitution (which had been in force since 1899). In 1951, the Jerusalem Program was adopted in addition to the Basle Program. This Jerusalem Program was subsequently superseded by the new Jerusalem Program of 1968.
   The Zionist Congress is the supreme body of the WZO. It is the congress that is empowered to elect the president, the chairman, the general council, the members of the Zionist executive, the congress attorney, and the comptroller. The congress deals with and determines all basic matters relating to the activities of the WZO. It is composed of delegates elected in all countries, except Israel, where the Zionist parties in the country receive their representation in the congress on the basis of elections to the Knesset. In its current configuration (since 1997), the World Zionist Congress is composed of 750 delegates, of whom 503 have voting rights. Also represented are organizations such as Hadassah and the Women's International Zionist Organization. Israel provides 38 percent of the delegates, the United States 29 percent, and the remaining countries of the Diaspora 33 percent. The congress receives and discusses reports from the Zionist General Council and the executive. Originally, the congress met annually until 1901, when it was resolved to meet every two years. Subsequently, until 1939, it met every other year (except during World War I). According to the constitution adopted in 1960, the Zionist Congress convenes every four years.
   The Zionist General Council, which is elected by the Zionist Congress, functions in the period between congresses and is empowered to deliberate and decide on all matters affecting the WZO and its institutions, including the budget, with the exception of matters relegated solely to the authority of the congress. Its composition reflects the relative strength of forces in the congress. The Zionist General Council supervises the activities of the Zionist executive by means of its various committees.
   The Zionist executive is the executive arm of the WZO and is elected by the congress for a period of four years. Some of its members are placed in charge of the various departments of the executive, while others serve as members without portfolio.
   The WZO is now a full partner in the Jewish Agency for Israel, which is an umbrella institution for a number of agencies and functional departments responsible for activities, such as the facilitation of aliya, immigrant absorption and resettlement, and other social services in Israel; the promotion of Zionist education; and advocating on behalf of Diaspora Jewish communities in distress. In recent years, steps have been taken to restructure the WZO to reflect the current balance of financial and political interests between Israel and Diaspora Jewish communities. For 2006, the Jewish Agency for Israel and WZO had an approved budget of US$285.7 million, almost half of the approximately $500 million budgeted in 1996. Recent chairs of the executive of the WZO and the Jewish Agency for Israel have included Simha Dinitz (1987-94), Avraham Burg (1995-97), and Sallai Meridor (1997-2005). On 24 June 2005, Ra'anana mayor Zeev Bielsky was selected as the next chairman.

Historical Dictionary of Israel. .

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