The Truth About the ZOA

Gene Lichtenstein’s July 2 editorial misrepresented the positions and activities of the Zionist Organization of America. The ZOA always has been, and remains, a centrist organization, and our efforts on behalf of Israel have broad support among American Jews.

We are not associated with any particular Israeli political faction. We work with both Democrats and Republicans in the U.S. Congress. Indeed, the more than 50 members of Congress who belong to the ZOA-initiated Peace Accord Monitoring groups are divided almost evenly between Democrats and Republicans.

The ZOA’s monitoring and exposing of Palestinian Arab violations of the Oslo accords, in conjunction with the congressional PAM groups, has very broad support in the American Jewish community and beyond.

In order to help members of Congress better understand the risks that Israel faces, we provide them with regular reports about the Palestinian Authority’s constant incitement to hatred and violence, especially the problem of official PA school books glorifying anti-Israel terrorism and teaching Arab children that Israel and Jews are “racist” and “evil.”

The ZOA has also taken the lead on the issue of bringing Palestinian Arab killers of Americans to the United States for prosecution. Following the ZOA’s public campaign on this issue — including newspaper advertisements, press conferences and lobbying in Congress — the House of Representatives passed, by 406 to 0, a resolution urging President Clinton to demand that Arafat hand over Arab killers of Americans for trial — including two suspects involved in the September 1997 bombing in which 14-year-old Yael Botwin, of Los Angeles, was killed. Just last month, the Senate unanimously passed legislation on this issue. Stephen Flatow, whose daughter Alisa was killed by Palestinian Arab terrorists in 1995, has publicly said that “only one American Jewish organization, the Zionist Organization of America, has seen fit” to take the lead on this important issue.

The ZOA has also played a crucial leadership role in the efforts to secure U.S. recognition of Jerusalem as Israel’s capital and moving the U.S. Embassy in Israel to Jerusalem.

The ZOA has served as a watchdog to monitor government appointments that affect Israel. In 1998, we publicized the fact that John Roth, the nominee for research director at the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum, had compared Israel to the Nazis; as a result, Roth declined the nomination. Earlier this year, we exposed the anti-Israel statements and activities of Joseph Zogby, who had been hired as special assistant to Martin Indyk, the assistant secretary of state for Near East affairs; after our protests, Zogby left his post.

More recently, we led the opposition to the nomination of Salam Al-Marayati of Los Angeles to the U.S. government’s National Commission on Terrorism, because of his long record of statements in which he justified Arab terrorism against Israel; justified future terrorism against America; compared America’s behavior to Saddam Hussein’s behavior; compared American supporters of Israel to Hitler; and compared Islamic terrorists to the heroes of the American Revolution. (For a complete list, please call the ZOA at (212) 481-1500.) Our opposition had nothing to do with the fact the Al-Marayati is a Muslim or an Arab-American; we would have just as vigorously opposed the nomination of a Jew or Christian who held such disturbing views.

Our opposition to Al-Marayati was widely echoed in the Jewish community. The Conference of Presidents of Mayor American Jewish Organizations, the American Jewish Congress, the American Jewish Committee and the Anti-Defamation League all came out against the Al-Marayati nomination.

Exposing, challenging and combating those who are hostile to Israel is our responsibility. As Sen. Arlen Specter, R-Pa., recently put it: “What the ZOA has done is to speak the truth, even when the truth is inconvenient to various powers that be.”

Morton Klein is national president of the Zionist Organization of America.

What’s Fact about the ZOA

Correction: I owe Morton Klein an apology for my July 2 editorial, “My Problem with the ZOA.” I misstated two facts. First, the 1996 ADL dinner, at which journalist Thomas Friedman was the guest speaker and to which the ZOA objected, occurred in Los Angeles, not in New York, as I stated. I relied on memory, a great error — particularly when I had Klein’s press release, which urged readers to protest and make their opinions known, directly in front of me.

The second point is more complicated. I said the ZOA seemed to function often as a lobby group for Likud in Israel and militant Jewish Republicans here. That was just sloppy. The ZOA is not aligned with any political party. Rather, it uses the political party system here to further an agenda that seems, to me, to be aimed at cutting off criticism of Israel and taking a very strong line against Yasser Arafat and the Palestinians. The end result of this is that ZOA is often joined by congressional members who are at odds with the White House. That includes right-wing and moderate Republicans and Jewish Democrats, some of whose constituents believe that the Clinton administration has been pressing Israel (and Binyamin Netanyahu) too hard in order to achieve a peace. Klein asserts that he is for peace; but his tactics suggest that he wants to hold Arafat’s feet to the fire until he either is destroyed by local extremists or must himself abandon negotiations. It is a position that links up readily with the political battles between the Congress and the President and in which Israel serves as one more pawn in an ongoing conflict. —Gene Lichtenstein