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The World Zionist Organization ( ), or WZO, was founded as the Zionist Organization ( ), or ZO, in 1897 at the First Zionist Congress, held from August 29 to August 31 in Baselmarker, Switzerlandmarker; it changed its name to World Zionist Organization in January 1960.

The ZO served as an umbrella organization for the Zionist movement, which aimed at creating a Jewish State of Israel in the region then known as Palestine. Theodor Herzl, who with Max Nordau and Zvi Shimshi, organized the first Congress, later wrote in his diary: "If I were to sum up the Congress in a word – which I shall take care not to publish – it would be this: At Basle I founded the Jewish State. If I said this out loud today I would be greeted by universal laughter. In five years perhaps, and certainly in fifty years, everyone will perceive it."

When the State of Israelmarker was declared 51 years later on May 14, 1948, many of its new administrative institutions were already in place, having evolved during the regular Zionist Congresses of the previous decades. Some of these institutions remain to this day. The WZO's headquarters was permanently moved to Jerusalemmarker, after being located over the years in capitals of Europe, including Berlinmarker and Londonmarker, and most recently in New York Citymarker, in the United States.

Membership and delegations

Membership in the WZO was open to all Jews, and the right to vote for delegates to the Congresses was secured by the purchase of the Zionist Shekel. Delegations from all around the world, and from many different political backgrounds and religious traditions, took part in each Congress; delegations/parties were mainly grouped by ideology, rather than by geography.

Presidents of World Zionist Organization

* Theodor Herzl : (1897 - 1904)
* David Wolffsohn : (1905 - 1911)
* Otto Warburg : (1911 - 1921)
* Chaim Weizmann (1st time) : (1921 - 1931)
* Nahum Sokolow : (1931 - 1935)
* Chaim Weizmann (2nd time) : (1935 - 1946)
* David Ben-Gurion (acting) : (1946 - 1956)
* Nahum Goldmann : (1956 - 1968)
* Ehud Avriel : (1968 - 1972)

Chairs of the Executive of World Zionist Organization (and the Jewish Agency for Israel)

Sister organizations

The finances of the WZO were conducted by the Jewish Colonial Trust (founded in 1899), and acquisition of land was conducted by the Jewish National Fund (founded in 1901). Keren Hayesod (founded 1920) funded Zionist and Yishuv activities prior to the creation of the state of Israelmarker through enterprises such as the Palestine Electric Company, the Palestine Potash Company and the Anglo-Palestine Bank.

World Zionist Congress

The World Zionist Congress ( ) is also known to many as 'The Parliament of The Jewish People' and it is the most important democratic gathering of Jews worldwide. It elects the officers and decides on the policies of the World Zionist Organization and the Jewish Agency. Any Jew over age 18 who belongs to a Zionist Association is eligible to vote, and the number of delegates to the Congress is capped at 500 delegates.

From 1897-1901, the Zionist Congress met every year, then every second year from 1903-1913 and 1921-1939. Until 1946 the Congress was held every two years in various European cities, save for interruptions during the two World Wars. Their goal was to build an infrastructure to further the cause of Jewish settlement in Palestine. Since the Second World War, meetings have been held approximately every four years. Also, since the creation of the State of Israelmarker, the congress has met every four or five years in Jerusalem.The 35th World Zionist Congress was held in June, 2006, where Zeev Bielski of Kadima was re-elected WZO Chairman. The next Congress is scheduled for 2010.

Political parties

Participants in the World Zionist Congress are free to organize themselves into Brit Olamit (ideological groupings), which somewhat equivocate with political parties. While political parties based in Israel can participate in the Congress, brits are also organized and voted into the Congress by non-Israelis, making the Congress a multinational deliberative body for the Jewish diaspora; however, as aliyah resulted in a large displacement of Jews to Israel from other countries, Israeli representation in the legislature has increased at the expense of non-Israeli Jewish diaspora representation. Brit Olamits are required to have representation in at least 5 countries prior to being allowed to send a Congress delegation to the Congress.

The largest faction in the World Zionist Congress at present is a coalition consisting of Merkaz (representing Conservative Judaism), Kadima, the Green Zionist Alliance, Labor-Meretz, and ARZA (Representing Reform Judaism.)

Other parties include:

Jerusalem Program

The platform of the WZO is the Jerusalem Program. The Zionist Council, meeting in Jerusalem in June 2004, adopted this text as the latest version.

Zionism, the national liberation movement of the Jewish people, brought about the establishment of the State of Israel, and views a Jewish, Zionist, democratic and secure State of Israel to be the expression of the common responsibility of the Jewish people for its continuity and future.

The foundations of Zionism are:

  • The unity of the Jewish people, its bond to its historic homeland Eretz Yisrael, and the centrality of the State of Israel and Jerusalem, its capital, in the life of the nation;
  • Aliyah to Israel from all countries and the effective integration of all immigrants into Israeli Society.
  • Strengthening Israel as a Jewish, Zionist and democratic state and shaping it as an exemplary society with a unique moral and spiritual character, marked by mutual respect for the multi-faceted Jewish people, rooted in the vision of the prophets, striving for peace and contributing to the betterment of the world.
  • Ensuring the future and the distinctiveness of the Jewish people by furthering Jewish, Hebrew and Zionist education, fostering spiritual and cultural values and teaching Hebrew as the national language;
  • Nurturing mutual Jewish responsibility, defending the rights of Jews as individuals and as a nation, representing the national Zionist interests of the Jewish people, and struggling against all manifestations of anti-Semitism;
  • Settling the country as an expression of practical Zionism.

Herzl Award

Since 2004, Department for Zionist Activities of the World Zionist Organization bestows the Herzl Award annually upon outstanding young men and women in recognition of their exceptional volunteer efforts on behalf of Israel and the Zionist cause.

Settlement controversy

A recent document which surfaced in a case before Israel's Supreme Courtmarker, shows that the World Zionist Organization, acting as an agent of the Israeli government, took private Palestinian land in the West Bank and gave it to Jewish settlers, even though the state itself had declared the property off-limits to settlement. Dror Etkes, Yesh Din's settlement expert said "It's an international organization that is, simply put, stealing land."

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