Zionist Organization of America president Morton Klein sees his reelection last week as vindication of his leadership, which had come under criticism in recent years.
Klein garnered over 92 percent of the vote, quashing board member Steve Goldberg in the first challenge to his leadership since taking over the right-wing group two decades ago.
“Clearly, this is a mandate supporting the work I have done for 20 years [and for] saving the organization,” Klein told The Jerusalem Post.
Goldberg “was overwhelmingly repudiated,” he added.
After taking over the century- old Zionist organization in 1994, Klein managed to turn its dismal finances around and revive what many saw as a body near the end of its life. Under his leadership, the ZOA has become one of the most prominent American Jewish opponents of the peace process and the two-state solution, putting it at odds with the prevailing opinion of much of the American Jewish mainstream, especially millennials.
Goldberg, a former lawyer for the Jewish Defense League, took issue with Klein’s politics and called for a shift.
“Under Mort Klein, the ZOA has objected to the two-state model because of Palestinian incitement against Jews and the absence of a viable partner for peace. While valid reasons, they leave open the possibility that someday, if the Palestinian Arabs mouth the right words, the two-state model would be acceptable,” Goldberg explained in a recent Jerusalem Post op-ed.
The ZOA, he said, had declined due to its transformation into what he termed “an organization serving the personal, financial and political whims of its current president.”
Claims of 30,000 members greatly overstate the organization’s reach, Goldberg wrote, asserting that “the ZOA’s mailing list contains about 9,400 names.”
In 2006, the Jewish Daily Forward, citing internal documents, reported that the number of dues-paying members was being “overstated by almost 40,000.”
Goldberg’s main critiques, however, centered around the lack of “ethical, effective governance and management” under Klein, whose supporters cited his turnaround of the organization’s moribund financial situation by significantly increasing fundraising and bringing in major donors.
“Last year I raised $4-5 million,” Klein told the Post.
According to Goldberg, donations in recent years were “anemic,” and the ZOA’s temporary loss of its tax-exempt status in 2011 due to a failure to file with the IRS for three years was “inexcusable.”
Non-profits generally run a year or two behind in their filings, but three years is the cutoff after which the IRS takes action.
Goldberg also blasted Klein for failing to publicly disclose the change in the organization’s tax status.
According to Klein, the ZOA sought filing extensions for two years and in the third year was given “the wrong date as to when it’s due” by its accountants.
“So we filed too late, so our tax status was automatically rescinded. As soon as I learned of this I immediately found a top tax lawyer. So in the next months we caught up getting all of our numbers together, and we filed everything that was needed to be filed up to date, and over the next number of months we filed a reinstatement petition,” he explained.
In the interim, he continued, the ZOA retained a third party that was able to process donations for a fee, enabling donors to receive “a full tax exemption.”
Klein recalled speaking with lawyers and asking about the issue of public disclosure.
While he said he had personally spoken with major donors, he was concerned about the next stage.
The lawyers “said no non-profit that loses its tax status sends out press releases and writes articles about it. They work to get reinstated,” he explained.
“You are required to not lie about your tax status. You can’t say you are a non-profit, and when we sent our fund-raiser letters we had our lawyers look at them,” he said.
Referring to Goldberg, Klein added that many people had been “furious at his outrageous lies.” He called them “outrageous allegations.”
“Why, if these issues are serious, didn’t a single member of the board endorse him? Until he really started thinking running against me he didn’t utter a word,” Klein said.
The ZOA leader showed the Post an email purportedly sent by Goldberg some years ago in he which termed Klein a “giant in the Jewish world.”
“You have fulfilled this trust magnificently, and it is impossible to thank you adequately for everything you’ve sacrificed over the past almost 20 years,” the email said.
Klein said he intends to continue to focus on the issue of Palestinian incitement and on working to get the Israeli government to discredit the Palestinians as potential peace partners based on their rhetoric. If the American public was aware of the Palestinian policy of naming streets, camps and institutions after terrorists, he asserted, they would be less supportive of the Obama administration’s efforts to broker a peace deal.