For 20 years, Mort Klein has served as National President of the Zionist Organization of America, a right-leaning Israel advocacy group with a venerable history. But on Sunday, Klein will face the first election challenge of his presidency when ZOA members meet to vote on granting him another term as Steven Goldberg challenges him for the position.
The issues at stake do not involve the group’s political direction. Both men stand firmly on the right end of the Zionist political spectrum and are, among other things, deeply suspicious of the current U.S.-brokered Middle East peace process and of the two-state solution for Israel and the Palestinians that is endorsed by Israel and the Jewish establishment.
But the contest has grown into a bitter feud following the group’s short-term loss under Klein of its tax-exempt status for failing to file tax documents with the IRS for three years, as first reported by the Forward.
Goldberg first emerged as a Klein opponent during the period in which the group was wrestling with the loss of its charitable status in February 2012. The tax-exempt revocation only received public attention after the publication of a Forward article disclosing it seven months later.
Goldberg launched his bid to unseat Klein in part because he believes the ZOA is in “steep decline,” thanks to what he described as falling donations, dwindling membership, and poor employee morale.
The group’s most recent publicly available tax returns, now filed with the IRS, show that ZOA’s income for 2012 was a little less than $2.9 million, compared to almost $3.3 million the year before — a decline of more than 13%.
“Mort Klein deserves credit for reviving the ZOA 20 years ago, but then he also has to shoulder responsibility for the condition of the ZOA today,” Goldberg said. “Unless there is a change of leadership, it’s going to sink into irrelevance.”
Klein was not available for comment while travelling. But he told the Times of Israel recently that he cares more about the organization than his personal role.
“If someone came along who was better at this job than I am, then I’d want them to do it,” he said. “If there was someone else who could raise $4 to 5 million from personal donors, be a credible, outstanding public speaker who could inspire people and promote our agenda, then great. But no one has these qualifications.”