The World Zionist Congress: day minus-1

“A wonderful Zionist battlefield” was today’s picturesque description of the Double-ewe Zed Cee (written in full for the avoidance of doubt because I’m afraid I can’t deal with hearing ‘Double-ewe Zee Cee’ any more…).

There’s no doubt that it’s Zionist – the theme of the year is “Non-Stop Zionism”, in sharp contrast to the faltering allegiance to the cause that has haunted the organisation these past 70 years – and little doubt that it’s a battlefield: “The committees… they don’t really operate according to any rules.”

As to the adjective ‘wonderful’ I’ll reserve judgement.

Yesterday afternoon was spent at the Knesset hearing from a range of politicians. First into the head basket was Labour MK Michal Biran (“If you are prepared to sacrifice 50% of your values then we are the party for you!” may not have been exactly what she meant to say, however).

Suddenly Michael Oren, from the new Kulanu party, staged a pitch invasion. He wandered in from a corridor and took it upon himself to address us at length, in his astonishing New York accent, about how Obama’s deal with Iran would prove catastrophic.

Once the organisers had moved him along as one would an embarrassing tipsy uncle at a family party, the official line-up continued. Ayman Odeh (Joint Arab List) and Tamar Zandberg (Meretz) were both inspiring orators who spoke much sense and gave us hope for a brighter future.

Benny Begin (Likud)’s slot was different in three ways. The son of the former Prime Minister, he was a charmingly wizened little figure who looked as if his body was divinely designed to sit in front of the two crossed Israeli flags which adorned the back wall of the committee room we occupied (if you’ll pardon the reference to the Geneva Convention).

In the Beginning, he explained his opposition to a two-state solution. “These Muslims don’t believe that the Jews have a right to a state in this land!” exclaimed the Jew who didn’t believe that the Muslims had a right to a state in said land.

Actually, it wasn’t until he said that Arabs who had been forcibly removed from their houses and transferred into camps shouldn’t count as refugees if they were still within 20 minutes’ journey of home, that I realised he was actually a comic performance artist just posing as a senior politician for the sole purpose of amusing me.

Every single MK, no matter how racist, received a standing ovation led by our oh-so-enthusiastic American colleagues, as the Brits grew wearier and wearier of having to keep standing up without regard to quality of speaker. “Israel at the moment is all about the uprisings,” was the general mutter.

The whips, meanwhile, were frantically organising coalitions. Despite being Canadian, one adopted a perfect ‘The Thick of It’ manner to exclaim: “This deal is like being kicked in the butt and then having to stand up, turn around and say thank-you!”

The Reform group leadership is almost always Canadian, by long-standing tradition. The rules explicitly bar Americans from holding office, and “the next best thing is a Canadian.”

Other appointments take place on a similarly sound, rational basis. The parties get together to apportion major positions in the WZC, WZO, JNF, IRA, KKL, JAFI (clue: one of those acronyms was made up), creating more full-time paid offices as necessary to ensure that every faction gets a seat at the table. No question of appointing based on the candidates’ merits/ Meretz.

It seems that relatively little at the Congress is based on merit. “The fighting will be brutal. There’ll be vitriol. Last year the police were called due to an outbreak of violence in one of the sub-committees. So don’t wear nice clothes.”

The festivities start this morning. I’m at the International Convention Centre – the building which was the IDF’s headquarters during the Six-Day War, ie. the actual literal place where the Occupation started – in not nice clothes, ready to begin.

Join the blog again tomorrow morning, a new sketch will be coming to a computer near you!

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