Skip To Content

Washington Lobbyist Rips ZOA Leader About Firing

The Zionist Organization of America, an organization known for its aggressive tactics and harsh criticisms of the White House, has dismissed its top Washington lobbyist, Sarah Stern.

Stern told the Forward that she and ZOA president Morton Klein had repeatedly clashed over his intense criticism of the Bush administration. But, she added, the differences came to a head with the publication of a flattering profile of Stern in the November issue of Lifestyles, a glossy magazine geared toward upscale Jewish New Yorkers.

“True leadership should want to cultivate talent, support talent, nurture it and see each other as team members,” Stern said. “Unfortunately Mort seems to be threatened by anyone who possesses any degree of honesty, integrity and intelligence and wants to work really hard.”

Klein declined to comment.

By many accounts, Stern is credited with bringing a measure of professionalism and dedication to ZOA’s lobbying efforts in the nation’s capital. More than one insider described her as the perfect complement to Klein’s aggressive—critics say abrasive—nature; supporters say Stern displays tact, charm and a polite relentlessness that endears her to many members of Congress. Most recently, Stern successfully helped gather congressional support for the Syria Accountability Act, a bill that gives the president the authority to slap penalties on Syria if it fails to halt its support for terrorist groups, its pursuit of weapons of mass destruction and its occupation of Lebanon.

While Stern and Klein found common ground in their distrust of the Palestinians, they could not agree on the amount of deference to be paid to the Bush administration, Stern said. They clashed, for example, on how best to handle the administration’s support of Israel’s bombing of a terrorist training camp in Syria.

“When Israel went over the terrorist bases in Syria, I felt that the president had a whole menu of options he could say and he chose to defend Israel’s actions very strongly, and I had to argue with Mort about issuing a press release defending the president,” Stern said. “It has always been a struggle to get him to say anything positive about this president.”

Formerly a psychologist for the Montgomery County Public School in Maryland, Stern first became involved in pro-Israel advocacy in 1993 when the Oslo Accords were signed. She was upset by what she described as mainstream Jewish groups ignoring Arafat’s Arabic diatribes exhorting his people to destroy Israel. Stern mailed videotapes of those speeches to congressional staffers and began working with the Women’s Pro-Israel National Political Action Committee.

“Sarah is one of the most dedicated people I’ve come into contact with in Washington,” said Rep. Jim Saxton, a New Jersey Republican and a frequent participant in ZOA-sponsored panel discussions. “She spares no degree of effort in trying to accomplish the goals she sets out for herself.”

While Saxton praised Stern, he also defended Klein’s aggressiveness, arguing that it helps ZOA serve an important and necessary role on Capitol Hill.

“ZOA and Mort have a perspective that’s extremely helpful and useful that’s oftentimes driven by other organizations in too soft a manner,” Saxton said. “On balance I think ZOA has been an extremely positive thing for Israel because Mort finds pockets of support that wouldn’t otherwise be found. Mort adds a perspective to the debate.”

Stern said that in the long run the organization would be best served by having less-confrontational lobbyists in Washington to complement Klein.

“There are people within the organization who see him as the symbol of the resistance, the only person to tell truth to power. But I was able to tell it in a nonacerbic, nonthreatening way, and I don’t see the world in black and whites,” Stern said. “What can I do? I tried. I tried. They’ve made their determination.”

I hope you appreciated this article. Before you go, I’d like to ask you to please support the Forward’s award-winning, nonprofit journalism during this critical time.

Now more than ever, American Jews need independent news they can trust, with reporting driven by truth, not ideology. We serve you, not any ideological agenda.

At a time when other newsrooms are closing or cutting back, the Forward has removed its paywall and invested additional resources to report on the ground from Israel and around the U.S. on the impact of the war, rising antisemitism and the protests on college campuses.

Readers like you make it all possible. Support our work by becoming a Forward Member and connect with our journalism and your community.

Make a gift of any size and become a Forward member today. You’ll support our mission to tell the American Jewish story fully and fairly. 

— Rachel Fishman Feddersen, Publisher and CEO

Join our mission to tell the Jewish story fully and fairly.

Republish This Story

Please read before republishing

We’re happy to make this story available to republish for free, unless it originated with JTA, Haaretz or another publication (as indicated on the article) and as long as you follow our guidelines. You must credit the Forward, retain our pixel and preserve our canonical link in Google search.  See our full guidelines for more information, and this guide for detail about canonical URLs.

To republish, copy the HTML by clicking on the yellow button to the right; it includes our tracking pixel, all paragraph styles and hyperlinks, the author byline and credit to the Forward. It does not include images; to avoid copyright violations, you must add them manually, following our guidelines. Please email us at [email protected], subject line “republish,” with any questions or to let us know what stories you’re picking up.

We don't support Internet Explorer

Please use Chrome, Safari, Firefox, or Edge to view this site.