Days after hosting a gala attended by former Trump advisers Sebastian Gorka and Steve Bannon, the Zionist Organization of America’s longtime chief took to Twitter to unleash on leftist critics.
Reached by the Forward, Klein stood by his tweets, and his gala. He accused one of the activists of “acting on that basis” of fear, and defended his decision to invite Bannon to speak.
“The ZOA and me are closer to Bannon’s views on Israel than we are to the [Anti-Defamation League], [the American Jewish Committee] or [the American Israel Public Affairs Committee],” he said, listing three leading Jewish establishment groups.
Klein’s aggressive tweets served to further cement the growing rift between his group and the American Jewish establishment, liberal members of which hit back at him over his attacks on the young activists.
Rabbi Jill Jacobs, head of the rabbinic social justice group T’ruah, tweeted that Klein had attacked “a young female Jewish leader in the nastiest way.” Peter Beinart, a Forward columnist and prominent dovish Jewish intellectual, tweeted that Klein was “frightened of [his] own complicity” in Israel’s “brutal denial of millions of people’s basic rights.”
Klein is not a frequent Twitter user. His account has existed for only a few months, and the period of heavy activity this week was unusual. At one point, he tweeted to deny that he has a combover.
His most aggressive tweet was targeted at Simone Zimmerman, a prominent member of a rising generation of young Jewish left-wing activists and a founder of IfNotNow. Zimmerman, who is currently in Israel, was unavailable to speak to the Forward by press time. The tweet was sent in response to a thread arguing that ZOA and other Jewish communal organizations should stop attacking Linda Sarsour, the Palestinian-American social justice activist who has been criticized for her views on Israel.
“You are attacking @lsarsour, trying to paint her as an evil enemy, because you ran out of moral justifications for occupation,” Zimmerman wrote.
Klein, whom Zimmerman did not personally mention or tag in her posts, lashed out in a response posted a day later.
You’re a pathetic frightened Jew who is so afraid of those like Sarsour who hate Jews&Israel,you feel appeasing our enemies will protect u https://t.co/c47HoMRzCy— Morton Klein (@MortonAKlein7) November 15, 2017
“When a Jewish person especially defends someone like that, I believe it is out of fear, enormous fear of our enemies, and a desperate attempt to appease our enemies in hopes that that way our enemies won’t hurt us or kill us,” Klein told the Forward.
He made no apologies for the language he used in his tweet. He went on to attack the Jewish media and Twitter users in general for criticizing the ZOA gala.
“I find it so unfair that the media, Jewish media as well and the Twitterites ignore the fact that we had Democrats like Alan Dershowitz and [former senator] Joe Lieberman” at the gala, Klein said. “They act as if we only had Steve Bannon and no one else at the dinner.”
Yet Klein also said that Bannon’s positions on Israel are close to those of ZOA.
“We oppose a Palestinian state, as does Bannon,” he said.
Klein said that the dinner had been a success. “Every person who came up to me after the dinner told me this was the greatest Jewish dinner they’ve ever attended and they believe the greatest Jewish dinner in history,” he said.
This story "ZOA Boss Calls Young Jewish Activist A ‘Mindless Idiot’" was written by Josh Nathan-Kazis.
Josh Nathan-Kazis is a staff writer for the Forward. He covers charities and politics, and writes investigations and longform.