I am in Israel, which is moving towards its third election in less than a year. This year, we too will have the opportunity and the responsibility to vote early and often. There will be five elections for us to participate in this year, and all are of major significance.
The first, for the World Zionist Congress, is already underway and we will have the opportunity to vote through March 11. The World Zionist Congress is the international parliament of the Jewish People. It meets every five years and allocates more than $1 billion to Jewish institutions, including tuition assistance for gap year students learning at yeshivot and midrashot in Israel, fighting anti-Semitism and BDS on college campuses and building settlements. The Congress also sets policy for the Zionist movement. Five years ago, the Reform and Conservative movements made a major effort to mobilize their members. They won a majority of the seats in the American delegation and used those results to proclaim that they represent American Jewry and to demand greater recognition and funding for their institutions and mixed prayers at the Kosel. This year, the Reform and Conservative movements are once again making a major effort, and there is also a slate that is backed by J Street and other leftist pro-Palestinian organizations. We need to vote in the World Zionist Congress elections to make our voices heard.
To vote in the World Zionist Congress election, go online to Zionistelection.org. You have to be Jewish, 18 years old or over, and to affirm your commitment to the Jerusalem Program, which proclaims “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.” It calls for aliyah, strengthening Israel, furthering Jewish education, fighting anti-Semitism, and defending the rights of the Jewish people. There is a $7.50 registration fee, a small price to pay when the question of who speaks for the American Jewry is at stake. Online voting is open until Wednesday, March 11 (Shushan Purim).
The Special Election for Queens Borough President will be held on Tuesday, March 24. It is a Special Election, not a primary. All enrolled voters can participate. The Queens Borough President has a major say in land use issues. Previous Borough Presidents, most notably Claire Shulman (whom I worked for), have played a leading role in obtaining the permits for building shuls, yeshivos, eiruvim, and mikvaos throughout Queens, and funding our community institutions. It is crucial that the Borough President be accessible and attentive to the needs of our community.
Iowa and New Hampshire have had their say, and many states will be heard from over the next few weeks. Our turn will come on Tuesday, April 28 (which is also the Memorial Day for soldiers of the Israel Defense Forces who fell in the line of duty and victims of terrorist attacks), in the New York Democratic Presidential Primary. The results of early voting show that Bernie Sanders has a very strong chance of winning the Democratic Presidential nomination. Polls show that he could well win the General Election. We cannot afford to take the gamble of allowing Bernie Sanders to win the Democratic nomination with the hope that he will loose the election. The time to stop Bernie Sanders is now. No matter how you plan to vote in November, it is crucial that you vote in the Democratic Primary. To vote in the Democratic Primary, you must be an enrolled Democrat. New voters have until April 8 (Erev Pesach) to enroll. You can do it online at voterregistration.dmv.ny.gov.
The Primary for Congress and the State Legislature will take place on Tuesday, June 23. Because New York, in general, and Queens, in particular, are overwhelmingly Democratic, the winners of these primaries will win the General Election. People like Grace Meng, one of the few Democrats to oppose the Iran Nuclear Deal and a leading supporter of Israel in Congress, and Daniel Rosenthal, a powerful voice for our community in Albany, may face strong challenges aligned with the Democratic Socialists of America and the Bernie Sanders/AOC wing of the Democratic Party. If you want to have a say over who represents us in Washington and in Albany, you must vote in the Democratic Primary on Tuesday, June 23.
Tuesday, November 3, will be Election Day, with the White House, both houses of Congress, both houses of the New York State Legislature, and many other offices at stake.
I’ll have more to say about each of these elections, but the most important thing is that we all participate. By the time Election Day comes around, many of the decisions over who speaks for the American Jewish community and who will represent our community in the halls of power will already have been made. To have your voice heard, you need to enroll in the World Zionist Congress election and the Democratic Primaries. With the future of Israel and the Queens Jewish community at stake, we cannot afford to wait till November, when it may well be too late. More than ever, this is the year to vote early and often.
Manny Behar is the former Executive Director of the Queens Jewish Community Council and was a senior aide to several elected officials.