I recently had the fascinating experience of attending the 114th national
anniversary dinner of the Zionist Organization of America in New York. Close to
800 participants (including 100 student activists) from throughout the US
gathered at New York City’s Hyatt Hotel to pay tribute to ZOA leader Morton
Klein and to participate in award ceremonies for charismatic and controversial
author and TV personality Glenn Beck, Representative Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, chair
of the House Foreign Relations Committee and Congresswoman Michele Bachmann
Founded in 1897, ZOA is the oldest American Zionist
organization. It has been headed by leaders of the caliber of Chief Justice
Louis Brandeis, Rabbi Stephen Wise, Louis Lipkes, and Rabbi Abba Hillel Silver.
In its heyday it was the most influential American lobbying group promoting the
creation of a Jewish state and the key global Zionist fund-raising
After the establishment of Israel, like most Zionist
organizations, ZOA descended into rapid decline. After hovering for many years
on the edge of bankruptcy, it was revived in the 1990s by Morton Klein, a child
of Holocaust survivors who had served as an economist in the Nixon and Carter
administrations and also worked closely as a biostatistician at the UCLA School
of Public Health with Nobel laureate Linius Pauling.
assumed the role of ZOA president without remuneration and invested much of his
own personal savings into the ailing organization.
Although born with
Tourette syndrome, an affliction which hinders speech and almost invariably
inhibits people from assuming public roles, Klein overcame his handicap and has
emerged as one of the most charismatic – albeit controversial – personalities
within the American pro-Israel camp.
From the outset, he adopted a
hard-line approach which isolated and made him an anathema to most of the dovish
liberal Jewish establishment.
His influence has grown exponentially in
recent years, climaxing in the aftermath of the election of US President Barack
Obama when he emerged as the most outspoken critic of the administration’s
policies towards Israel.
During the initial honeymoon period when most
Jewish leaders deluded themselves, refusing to acknowledge the reality of
Obama’s hostility to Israel, Klein was vehemently condemned for promoting what
were described as extremist partisan policies.
These attacks intensified
when he began criticizing the Israeli government for concessions extended to the
Palestinians, even castigating Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu for being too
soft and failing to convey more bluntly the reality of Israel’s relationship
both with Palestinians and Americans. Yet that did not inhibit Netanyahu from
conveying a video message to the dinner warmly congratulating Klein, the ZOA and
those honored for their contributions to Israel advocacy.
ONE OF the
inevitable consequences of Klein’s intense and unrelenting condemnation of the
Obama administration’s policies was a distancing from the ZOA by Democratic
supporters, including those opposed to the administration’s bias against Israel,
who regarded Klein’s attacks as too strident. Thus, this was the first time that
only Republican representatives participated at such a ZOA event, denying Klein
the right to claim that he enjoyed bipartisan support.
made this event extraordinary was the unprecedented backing for Israel expressed
by Ros- Lehtinen, the powerful head of the House Foreign Affairs Committee. Her
support was not merely verbal but is reflected in the policies she promotes in
Congress. She had been poised to introduce legislation to cut off US funding to
the PA in response to their intensified intransigence, but set it aside due to
Israeli government intervention.
Congresswoman Michele Bachmann, the Tea
Party candidate for president and one of the most articulate Christian Zionist
representatives in Congress, also made a dramatic presentation. She is unlikely
to win the Republican nomination but will undoubtedly continue to be a very
influential politician. She reiterated the evangelical rationale for supporting
Israel by paraphrasing the Book of Genesis: “those who bless Israel will be
blessed and those that curse Israel will be cursed. I stand with
Scathing on the Obama administration, she said: “Israel needs a
friend. When it looks at the White House, it does not see one.” She called for
drastic action against Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, who was “striving
for a second Holocaust.” Her cri de coeur was: “Israel will never be up for
grabs – not one inch, not one acre, not one square foot will ever be on the
Her passionate address was followed by ZOA President
Klein, who didn’t pull any punches, expressing unequivocal support for
settlements, castigating the failure of the Palestinians to uphold the Oslo
Accords and accusing them of representing a criminal society unqualified to
operate a state. He also scathingly condemned other American Jewish
organizations for opposing the controversial Knesset legislation on foreign
funding of NGOs.
The climax of the evening was Glenn Beck’s emotional
one-hour oration which, like other speeches, was continuously interrupted by
He presented an apocalyptic world outlook – a choice
between good and evil, between black and white. He spoke passionately, with
tears welling in his eyes, especially when conveying his ardor for Israel and
the need to avoid another Holocaust. He said he was motivated by Christian
obligations and stridently denounced Obama, his administration and the political
Beck was awarded the prestigious Theodor Herzl and Brandeis awards
by Sheldon Adelson, one of world Jewry’s premier philanthropists, publisher of
Israel’s most widely read newspaper, Israel Hayom, and a fervent ZOA supporter.
Adelson and his wife Miriam hailed Beck as a “most passionate Zionist who tells
the truth about the Arab war against Israel.”
It is true that many
American Jews bitterly oppose Morton Klein’s hardline approach, his fervent
support for settlements and persistent condemnation of Obama policies. But he
has unquestionably made a major contribution in advocating the cause of
Nobody can deny that he has been influential in encouraging many
American Jews to review their thinking.
He has also succeeded in forging
relations with Christian Zionists who were initially regarded with considerable
disdain by the American Jewish liberal establishment and have now emerged as a
major force, significantly contributing towards the remarkable support Israel
enjoys among the American people.
Klein does not purport to represent all
American Jews or Zionists, and ZOA’s weakness is its lack of bipartisan support.
But there are a host of other major Jewish organizations that compensate by
concentrating almost exclusively on the Democratic Party.
I certainly do
not endorse all ZOA policies. But in such a hostile climate, when many of the
Jewish establishment leaders remain silent, I pay tribute and commend Morton
Klein and ZOA for acting as spirited and courageous advocates, relentlessly
articulating the case for Israel and galvanizing support within the Republican
Party and among conservatives.The writer’s website can be viewed at