ZOA Faces Doubts About Management

Board Backs Klein Despite Budget Woes, Loss of Tax Status

Management Doubts: Zionist Organization of America members listen to radio host Glenn Beck at the group’s 2011 gala dinner.
naomi zeveloff
Management Doubts: Zionist Organization of America members listen to radio host Glenn Beck at the group’s 2011 gala dinner.

By Josh Nathan-Kazis

Published September 12, 2012, issue of September 21, 2012.
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The Zionist Organization of America’s board expressed support for the continued leadership of National President Morton Klein at a meeting on September 11, hours after the Forward publicly revealed that the group had lost its tax-exempt status.

The loss of the exemption came after the 115-year-old Zionist group missed three consecutive years of Internal Revenue Service filings. The ZOA is no longer allowed to accept tax-deductible contributions.

ZOA spokesman David Drimer, the group’s national executive director, said that the sanction was the result of a “technical misunderstanding” and that the group is nearly ready to apply for a retroactive reinstatement of its tax exemption.

Charity law experts contacted by the Forward said that the ZOA’s explanation for why it missed the deadline did not exculpate the group from wrongdoing. And one board member has criticized the ZOA’s management for opposing broad public disclosure of the sanction while raising questions about the quality of the board’s oversight of the organization.

Drimer said that the lost exemption is no secret and that he talked “with numerous individuals about it every day.” He said that the group’s lawyer had asserted that the ZOA had no obligation to publicize the loss of its exemption.

The ZOA’s national board discussed the issue at a closed-door meeting in its Manhattan offices. According to the dissident board member, National Vice Chairman Steven Goldberg, the board held a vote of confidence in Klein at the meeting. Goldberg said that he was the only board member to vote in opposition to the motion.

“This was a whitewash,” Goldberg said. “They’re not interested in compliance or governance.”

A handful of board members declined to speak with a Forward reporter standing outside the ZOA building. The ZOA sent a representative to the building’s front door to discourage board members from speaking with the Forward.

An institution with roots in the beginning of the Zionist movement in America, the ZOA is now to the right of the American Jewish political spectrum. Klein has led the ZOA for the past 18 years. He is currently recovering from heart surgery at home in Pennsylvania and did not attend the board meeting.

Goldberg alleged that the board exercises little control over the ZOA. Since he joined the board in 2008, Goldberg said that he has not been shown an organizational budget, and that no budget has been distributed at any board meeting. In a phone call with the Forward subsequent to the posting of this story, Drimer said that the board has a finance committee that approves the organization’s budget.


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