The Zionist Organization of America is among the most influential pro-Israel organizations. It proudly commands an unparalleled level of access and respect among opinion leaders and policy- makers in the US and Israel.
For 20 years, the ideological leadership and development engine driving ZOA ’s mission has been its president, Morton A. Klein.
Klein took an organization on the verge of bankruptcy and restored it to health. Today, the gravitas of ZOA ’s policy positions cannot be ignored either on Capitol Hill or in the Knesset.
But, precisely because of its profound pro-Israel voice, there are rivals for power within and without the organization. These rivals have spread unfounded, ill-informed rumors, some of which have found their way into the pages of this newspaper.
We feel ethically compelled to address blatant misstatements of fact that may well result in confusion within the Jewish community.
One disturbing accusation appearing in Martin Sherman’s recent Jerusalem Post opinion piece on the upcoming ZOA election is that “reports have been flooding in of abusive management of employees.”
The ZOA has only one employment- related lawsuit now pending.
While we cannot comment on details of a lawsuit in progress, we maintain the suit is meritless and that ZOA will prevail in court. The last time ZOA was sued under similar circumstances, it was entirely exonerated at trial. There was no settlement, and no damages of any kind were assessed against ZOA . That is the sum total of employee complaints in recent memory.
ZOA did lose its tax-exempt status for failure to make necessary filings to the IRS on time, due to a poorly understood change in IRS regulations. Over 400,000 other not-for-profit organizations similarly lost their status, for the very same reason; that is roughly onethird of all US not-for-profit entities. ZOA ’s status was retroactively restored subsequent to filing all delinquent tax forms.
During the revocation period, the organization contracted with a fiscal management partner (FJC.org, Foundation for the Jewish Community; a tax-exempt organization) to form a “donor advised fund” named the ZOA Donor Fund. Every penny raised by ZOA during this time was fully-tax deductible to the extent allowable by law and unavailable for ZOA ’s use until it regained its status.
ZOA ’s loss of status was immaterial to its donors from every practical standpoint. Nevertheless, many hundreds of donors were fully aware of the change in ZOA ’s status. All those monies have subsequently been repatriated and expended by the ZOA for their donor-intended purposes.
Fully cognizant of its behavior before, during and subsequent to the revocation, the IRS retroactively restored ZOA ’s tax-exempt status. Where is the so-called “scandal,” other than that created by individuals with their own ambitions having nothing to do with ZOA ’s mission? The reality of ZOA today is far different than its critics would have its members, the general public and donor communities believe. In 2013 alone, ZOA registered the following achievements: • Operating reserves at the end of the year were $6.3 million, a new high.
• One of ZOA ’s signature annual programs, the Student Leadership Mission to Israel, nearly tripled participants vs the 2012 trip, based on a very generous restricted gift from a donor.
• Perhaps the biggest news was that 2013 was a record fund-raising year. One donor alone gave ZOA $2m., nearly quadruple what the same donor contributed in 2011.
• Once ZOA repatriated the monies deposited in the donor-advised fund held by its fiscal management partner, the organization’s gross income from all sources, including rent, was roughly $7.25m.
• ZOA has more liquid operating funds available than it did before the revocation period.
Operating reserves at the end of 2013 were $6.3m., topping the previous high of $6.2m. in 2010. ZOA has the highest cash reserves in its recorded history.
Far from the picture of a moribund organization, the ZOA today is stronger and more influential than ever before. It is continually expanding its programs, starting new chapters and pursuing plans to expand its outreach to young professionals, additional college campuses and aggressive legal action against anti-Semitism, and lobbying efforts at the state and federal level.
The ZOA community is heartened by Caroline Glick’s courageous and clear-headed assessment of the ZOA under Mort Klein’s leadership in a recent issue of the Post. We agree with her that the “American Jewish community is adrift.” The major Jewish communal organizations have indeed failed to adequately defend the legitimacy and security interests of the Jewish homeland.
Dr. Michael Goldblatt is chairman of the Board of the Zionist Organization of America.
David Drimer is ZOA’s national executive director.