ZOA’s Morton Klein says he’s still the best man for the job

Ahead of convention, 20-year head of right-wing pro-Israel group says he’d quit if someone better came along, but nobody has

Renee Ghert-Zand is a reporter and feature writer for The Times of Israel.

Zionist Organization of America (ZOA) president Morton A. Klein (Joseph Savetsky/courtesy of ZOA)
Zionist Organization of America (ZOA) president Morton A. Klein (Joseph Savetsky/courtesy of ZOA)

Morton A. Klein, who has been the national president of the Zionist Organization of America for the past 20 years, believes he is still the best man for the job. He is confident that delegates arriving in Philadelphia next week for ZOA’s 2014 convention will re-elect him, despite an aggressive challenge from national vice president Steven M. Goldberg.

Klein, 66, has vigorously defended himself against allegations by Goldberg, a Los Angeles attorney, that Klein mismanaged the affairs of the 117-year old right-wing Zionist organization, including lax financial oversight leading to the organization’s loss of tax-exempt status for more than a year. Klein has also denied that his salary is inflated, despite analysis by the Forward showing that the $435,050 he was paid in 2012 was 93% more than the predicted salary for the head of an organization of ZOA’s size.

“Israel is facing its most dangerous situation since 1948 and 1967. There’s the danger of Iran, and of the establishment of a Palestinian terrorist state,” Klein told The Times of Israel. “The ZOA needs someone who knows the issues backwards and forwards, someone who has close contacts in the US Congress and the major media. I’ve got the background and the experience.”

Klein is eager to continue making ZOA’s case for Israel and against the establishment of a Palestinian state. As far as he and his organization are concerned, the Palestinians only want the destruction of the Jewish State.

“Statehood will only promote the Palestinians’ terrorist agenda. Statehood is not the answer. It will only make things worse,” Klein said.

Klein holds out no hope for Secretary of State John Kerry’s efforts to broker peace between Israel and the Palestinian Authority. “There is as much chance of success for Kerry and Abbas as there was with Clinton and Arafat. In other words, there is no chance.”

“Bibi is trying to make it clear to Obama that Israel has made extraordinary concessions, and that the Palestinians have only promoted hatred and violence,” he reflected on talks this week in Washington between Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and President Barack Obama.

Klein points to the Palestinians’ lack of compliance with the provisions of the Oslo Accords, and not Israeli settlement building activity, as the problem.

“The settlement issue is a fake issue,” he stated. “We’ve been trying to make it clear to Congress and Obama that the fastest way to the end of the conflict is for [Palestinian President Mahmoud] Abbas to recognize the Jewish State and make a deal about the borders. Once there are recognized borders, settlements building (which is only the expansion of existing settlements) will stop.”

According to Klein, American college students who have been on ZOA trips to Israel, which include visits to Jewish settlements in the West Bank, will address an expected 200 delegates at ZOA’s convention on March 9-10.

“We are the only American group to bring kids past the Green Line, where they visit communities and see that they are made up of nice, real families, not radical crazy people,” Klein said.

The convention, whose keynote speaker will be Republican Congresswoman Michele Bachmann, will also feature advocacy training for ZOA activists, including workshops on letter and op-ed writing.

“ZOA has several key messages for the US government and Americans,” Klein noted. “First, there is the truth about the Arab war against Israel. Second, we need to demonize the demons; the Palestinian Authority is a terrorist regime that is against human rights, and Abbas is a dictator.”

When it comes to Iran, ZOA maintains it can’t be trusted unless it transforms its record on human rights violations and retracts its genocidal statements against Israel and the West.

“There needs to be a credible military threat against Iran if it does not dismantle its nuclear program,” said Klein. “And if the US won’t pose a threat, then it must support an Israeli attack, if necessary.”

Klein recognizes BDS as a huge problem on university campuses. “And our kids don’t know how to answer it,” he lamented.

“BDS is the worst. It’s the most monstrous lashon hara imaginable. It ignores true human rights disasters around the world. BDS only exists because Israel is a state filled with Jews.”

“At our convention and on other occasions, we give kids ammunition against BDS. We teach them to address this through activism, by bringing them speakers, panels and literature exposing the Palestinian terrorist regime.”

Klein leaves the “Start-up Nation” public relations effort to others. “We don’t promote that. It just makes people hate Israel more,” he said.

The ZOA president makes no apologies for being right wing. A self-described “rational centrist,” he believes it is all about being on the side of truth. “Truth is not a political position,” he said.

However, he does believe that most Jewish organizations have moved to the left, which makes no sense to him. “There should be no concessions until the Palestinians fulfill Oslo. Things will not be fine if we just give them a state.”

Klein is proud of what he has accomplished at ZOA’s helm over the past two decades and plans to stay on to confront ongoing challenges like getting the US to move its embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem, and persuading other American Jewish organizations, as well as the US Congress, to come out against a Palestinian state.

While Klein maintains that this is not the right time for ZOA to “change horses,” he says he is not averse to bringing new blood in to the organization. “New people are being hired all the time at ZOA,” he said. “My only interest is what’s best for the Jewish people, Israel and ZOA.”

“If someone came along who was better at this job than I am, then I’d want them to do it. If there was someone else who could raise $4-5 million from personal donors, be a credible, outstanding public speaker who could inspire people and promote our agenda, then great,” Klein said. “But no one has these qualifications.”

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