The chareidi world is up in arms over this week's decision by the Shas Party to join the World Zionist Organization (WZO), which has been banned by gedolei Yisroel past and present since its founding 113 years ago. Leading rabbonim were flabbergasted to hear that Shas, which considers itself a chareidi movement, made such a contemptible move by joining an overtly Zionist organization.
The WZO was founded by Theodore Herzl at the First Zionist Congress, held in Basel in 5657 (1897) to advance Zionist ideas throughout European Jewry. It was an avowedly secular organization. Now, the WZO board is selected at the Zionist Congress, which convenes once every five years. Congress members are chosen by Zionist organizations in the Diaspora and the national-religious Zionist movement in Israel. The Congress is subject to the Zionist Executive Committee, which meets annually, and the board under it manages WZO affairs in practice.
In the early years after its founding, only the Mizrachi movement defied the harsh statements gedolei Yisroel issued against the organization, claiming their rabbonim permitted it to join. The move led to an irreparable split over the years between the national-religious groups in the Mizrachi movement and the chareidi world, including both the yeshiva world and Chassidus.
At the recent WZO board meeting held to consider Shas' membership request, a letter by Minister Yaakov Margi noted that Shas had submitted a request to the parties registrar to change the party platform to accord with Zionist principles as embodied in the Jerusalem Program. As part of the move, Shas joined the World Likud as a bloc within the WZO.
The mainstream media presented the announcement as a "historical move" in which a "chareidi-Zionist party" was formed for the first time. Shas issued an official announcement regarding the change in its party charter and its adoption of the Jerusalem Program, which recognizes the foundations of Zionism.
During the meeting, WZO treasurer Hagai Meirom praised Shas' demonstrable move toward receiving membership. "This is a historic move in which the chareidi Shas movement is joining the WZO, and in effect, the Zionist movement," he said.
Shas' willingness to make the radical move stemmed from its decision in principal that the substantial problem of joining Zionist institutions can be overlooked, considering the move would allow party activists to be appointed to important posts.
The WZO is in charge of key party appointments to other Zionist organizations, such as the Jewish National Fund and the Jewish Agency. According to reports, Shas critics, within the WZO as well, hinted that the party is seeking to use the organization as a means to place faithful party members in key positions.