More than 200 American Jewish students leaders penned a letter in late April to the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations calling on its leadership to censure the Zionist Organization of America (ZOA) and its head Mort Klein, due to his alleged racism and behavior in light of the appointment of Dianne Lob as the Jewish umbrella group’s next chair, according to a Jewish News Syndicate (JNS) report.
According to the letter, which is addressed to Conference of Presidents chairman Arthur Stark, CEO William Daroff and executive vice chairman Malcolm Hoenlein, Klein is alleged to have engaged in “a pattern of racist and Islamophobic behavior." It adds that he has “engaged in a bizarre and concerning display of both disparagement of HIAS and anti-refugee bigotry, [which is part of] a long-standing pattern of both racism and the disparagement of other major American Jewish organizations.”
ZOA's criticism of Lob stems from the latter's strong criticism of US President Donald Trump's immigration policies as head of the Hebrew Immigrant Aid Society (HIAS) from 2016 to 2019, as well as HIAS's recent political positions on the US immigration question.
In a statement to JNS, Klein claimed that these students engaged in “astroturfing,” masking sponsors of a political message as though it comes from grassroots members of a community.
“I say that because most college students have never heard of the Conference of Presidents, ZOA or HIAS. The only way you can get people to sign something, is if its organized, and this was organized by J Street. A large number of names are J Street student officials in college and affiliated officially with the group. Others are people who belong to SJP and other far-left Jewish organizations like Jewish Voice for Peace and IfNotNow," Klein wrote.
“This was organized by the far-left, anti-Israel radical people,” he said. “And since HIAS has signed letters with J Street, with JVP and other radical groups, I wouldn’t be surprised if they were in touch with them to put this letter together. Students don’t automatically take a position on the Conference of Presidents that they never heard of.”
ZOA, a prominent group associated with the right-wing of the Zionist movement, has often clashed with the left-wing J Street on the Israeli-Palestinian peace process and US policies regarding Israel, in addition to the anti-Zionist Jewish Voice for Peace and IfNotNow organizations.
“We support those in our generation who want Jewish institutions that claim to represent our community to hold racist leaders like Mort Klein accountable,” IfNotNow said in response.
“However, we believe a simple censure does not go far enough; we believe that the Conference of Presidents should strip Klein and the ZOA from their seat at the table. If the leaders of the Conference refuse to take this obvious step, we reiterate our call for progressive groups in the Conference of Presidents to stop giving it legitimacy and to leave.”