In Defense of Morton Klein and ZOA


By Michael Goldblatt, Alan Mazurek, Henry Schwartz, Sheldon Fliegelman and Janice Sokolovsky

Published March 17, 2006, issue of March 17, 2006.
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The Forward got it right when it called the Zionist Organization of America “a storied century-old organization which is arguably the most prominent American opponent to [one-sided] Israeli territorial concessions and American aid to the Palestinians with fiery speeches, press releases, frequent newspaper opinion pieces and intense lobbying in Washington who has won over big-name donors.”

Unfortunately, that’s where the accuracy and truth of the article about the ZOA and its president essentially end. That age-old aphorism, “you can’t always believe what you read,” has never been more true than when it comes to this article. The Forward article got many things wrong. It understated the number of ZOA employees. There is no arbitration pending. Every ZOA employee has and always will receive the full pay to which they are entitled. We take pains to ensure that every pregnant employee has been fully apprised of the ZOA pregnancy policy. As for the claim that Rafael Medoff, an 11-year ZOA employee, was writing Mort’s speeches, the fact is that Mort wrote every single speech himself. The fact is, too, that Morton Klein worked full time without pay for his first six years as president of the ZOA, showing his extraordinary devotion to Israel and the Jewish people.

However, the most striking and mystifying misrepresentation regards Morton Klein’s relationship with ZOA employees and the working atmosphere at ZOA. We can attest to the fact that the working environment at ZOA is supportive, warm, friendly and stimulating. Morton Klein is a demanding and exacting boss but is kind and courteous and treats everyone with respect and dignity, and he always shows unqualified appreciation for their work. That’s what we’ve seen, that’s what we’ve experienced, that’s what ZOA employees tell us. The Mort Klein we know and work with is not recognizable in this article.

We have never, ever seen the behavior attributed to Morton Klein and alleged by certain former employees and board members in the article. These individuals’ opinions are simply not credible. Three were fired, and thus surely have an axe to grind. One is a former board member who tried unsuccessfully to prevent the necessary sale of a ZOA property in Israel that he wanted for himself. Another is a friend of a former ZOA president whom Mort defeated in an election.

The types of positive relationships that Mort has developed are evidenced by the fact that almost every board member who served when Mort began his presidency is still with the ZOA, and the average length of service of current ZOA employees is well over 10 years, with several serving over 20 years. The lack of fairness in the article was further evidenced in the fact that it contained only one brief, positive quote from a current ZOA employee and board member.

We are also thoroughly perplexed as to why this type of story warrants front-page coverage. Is it because the Forward is opposed to ZOA’s political views? ZOA has been tragically right about Oslo, Arafat and Abbas. As the Los Angeles Times wrote in a front-page story, “the ZOA is winning support, even among U.S. liberals.”

We are proud to note that since Morton Klein came to ZOA, the budget has increased almost fourfold. The average gift by board members has increased a dramatic 30-fold. Before Klein’s administration, employees were regularly furloughed without pay and there were no raises for many years; under Klein there have been regular salary increases and no furloughs. Prior to Klein’s administration, our annual dinner attracted under 200 people. Last year’s dinner drew a record 1,000 people.

Under Klein, ZOA has expanded staff and programs and established a new office of government relations in Washington, D.C., a department of campus activities and a Center for Law and Justice, as well as launched a new college magazine, The College Zionist.

The Forward complains about our regional districts listed and membership numbers. The ZOA does list every ZOA district, as long as it has a president, 25 members and some activity. We multiply our paid membership by 2.5 to 3 because our bylaws have always considered every spouse and child of a paid member to be a valid member themselves.

We are proud and happy to be part of the ZOA, which the Wall Street Journal called “the most credible advocate for Israel on the American Jewish scene today.” All of us at ZOA will continue to work with Morton Klein for Israel, the Jewish people and peace in the Middle East. As Senator Hillary Clinton wrote in a letter to us, “the ZOA works tirelessly to safeguard Israel and promote democratic values and true peace throughout the Middle East.”

Michael Goldblatt is board chairman of the Zionist Organization of America. Alan Mazurek is the organization’s executive committee chairman, Henry Schwartz the treasurer, Sheldon Fliegelman the immediate past acting executive director and Janice Sokolovsky a former executive director.

Editor’s note: The Forward stands by its reporting.

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