Mort Klein, the Zionist Organization of America national president, spent two days and nearly 20 tweets last week doubling down on his use of the phrase “filthy Arab” in a tweet.
In his protracted online defense of the slur, Klein asserted that he had been narrowly describing the murderer of Israeli-American Ari Fuld in the West Bank days earlier or “Arab murderers” in general as “filthy.” He insisted he was not referring to all Arabs.
In one tweet, Klein attributed his use of the slur to his anger over Fuld’s murder, even though his original tweet made no mention of the killing.
“I had a strong emotional response to his murder by an Arab murderer,” Klein wrote. He also mentioned the death of his own family members in the Holocaust and cited his own involvement in the Civil Rights movement, although it wasn’t clear what the possible connection could be to his anger at Arabs.
Klein’s organization, once seen as a far-right fringe group, has been bolstered in recent years by the financial support of Las Vegas casino mogul Sheldon Adelson, and is reported to have close ties to the Trump White House.
Though the slur drew wide condemnation online, there has been no reaction from Jewish establishment organizations, many of which have institutional ties to Klein’s ZOA.
The Anti-Defamation League, which in recent months has emphasized its work opposing hate online, did not respond to multiple requests for comment on Klein’s tweet.
Klein could not be reached for comment on Monday, the Jewish holiday of Sukkot, when observant Jews are prohibited from working or going online.
Klein’s initial tweet, posted on the evening of September 16, was in response to a tweet from the the pro-Palestinian news website Electronic Intifada about the European Union providing a subsidy to an Israeli firm with a factory in the occupied West Bank.
“There is no occupation in Judea and Samaria,” Klein wrote. “[W]here is your condemnation of the evil murders by your filthy Arab Islamist despicable brethren. The Nazis would be proud of the evil actions of murderous Arabs- murdering innocent Jews and Americans.You make the world worse.“
It’s not clear why Electronic Intifada’s message set him off, except that it used of the word “occupation” to describe Israel’s 51-year rule over the West Bank.
Klein’s tweet was quickly “ratioed,” in Twitter parlance, meaning it received far more critical responses than favorable “likes” or “retweets.”
Klein began defending and doubling down on the tweet the next morning. “I do hate terrorists and murderers no matter their ethnicity,” he wrote, twelve hours after the original tweet. “I lost most of my family to German Nazi murderers.I am a child of holocaust survivors born in a displaced persons camp in Germany and lost most of my aunts uncles cousins and grandparents.I despise terrorists,don’t you”
That afternoon, he cited his own involvement in the Civil Rights movement in further defense of the slur: “I love people and want the best for them that’s why I marched for voting rights for African American and anti war marches and worked in George McGoverns and Dukakis campaigns,” he wrote.
In one exchange with Debra Shushan, director of policy and government relations for the dovish pro-Israel group Americans for Peace Now, Klein responded to her charge that he had used “racist ad hominems” by writing that he “worked in the civil rights movement, went to Mississippi to fight for voting rights for African Americans.”
Klein’s typo-filled, acerbic tweets have caused controversy in the past. Earlier this year, he apologized for a tweet saying that Harvard-educated actress Natalie Portman’s views on Israel “gives credibility and legitimacy to the ludicrous,false,nonsensical belief that beautiful women aren’t too bright.” He had initially defended himself from charges of misogyny by alleging that Portman had won a particular award for famous Jews in part because she is beautiful, and describing one of his employees as a “very attractive woman.”
In July, the former executive director of the ZOA filed a lawsuit against Klein and the organization, accusing Klein of taking secret payments from donors and sabotaging the group’s tax exempt status to hide his inflated salary, and saying that Klein had retaliated against him when he blew the whistle on the alleged misconduct. A ZOA attorney has called the suit’s allegations “frivolous.”
Josh Nathan-Kazis is a staff writer for the Forward. He covers charities and politics, and writes investigations and longform.