An Israeli flag is seen near the minaret of a Mosque in Jerusalem's Old City. Nov. 30, 2016. Photo by Ammar Awad/REUTERS.

ZOA endorses Israel’s anti-BDS law

The Zionist Organization of America endorsed a new Israel law that would ban entry to supporters of boycotting Israel or its settlements, setting it apart from an array of Jewish groups who oppose the law.

“The ‘boycott, divestment and sanctions’ (‘BDS’) movement against Israel is unjustified, discriminatory, harmful economic terrorism, powered by virulent Jew hatred,” the ZOA said Friday in a statement.

“Israel thus has every right to protect herself with this law, which bans entry of persons who are not Israeli citizens or permanent residents if they, or the organization in which they are active, knowingly issued a public call to boycott Israel or pledged to boycott Israel or areas controlled by Israel,” the group said.

The law, adopted Monday by the Knesset, bans entry to foreigners who publicly call for boycotting the Jewish state or its settlements. It has drawn mounting criticism from American Jewish groups, including the Anti-Defamation League and the American Jewish Committee, as well as the Reform and Reconstructionist movements. First to condemn the law were an array of left-wing Jewish groups, including J Street and the New Israel Fund.

On Friday, the Association for Israel Studies condemned the law, saying it would turn Israel into an “isolated entity open only to those who ascribe to official policy.”

The Trump administration has said that border crossings are a sovereign matter, but added that it favors free expression.


President Donald Trump signs an executive order for a U.S. travel ban, at the Pentagon, January 27. Photo by Carlos Barria/REUTERS.

Zionist Organization of America welcomes Trump’s immigration order, JCPA opposes

The Zionist Organization of America welcomed President Donald Trump’s immigration order banning refugees and new visas for citizens from six Muslim-majority countries, while the umbrella body for Jewish policy groups joined an array of Jewish groups opposed to it.

The order “fulfills the president’s basic duty of protecting the nation by suspending entry by nationals from six nations (Iran, Syria, Libya, Somalia, Sudan, and Yemen) where current screening abilities are inadequate, resulting in an unacceptable risk that individuals who intend to commit, aid or support terrorist acts here will infiltrate into the U.S.,” the ZOA said in a statement on Tuesday.

The ZOA statement comes after an array of Jewish groups, including the Reform movement and the Anti-Defamation League, as well as Democratic Jewish lawmakers, condemned the order. Trump revised the order after an earlier one was stayed by the courts.

The consensus-driven Jewish Council for Public Affairs, an umbrella body for Jewish public policy groups and regional Jewish community relations councils, on Monday evening joined in opposition to the order, but in language less condemnatory.

“We continue to oppose such a travel ban because it reduces the number of refugees coming into this country and still specifically names Muslim-majority countries,” the JCPA said in a statement. “There’s no evidence that refugees from these countries represent a special threat.”

People take part in an "I am Muslim Too" rally in Times Square on Feb. 19. Photo by Carlo Allegri/Reuters

What America needs: Thousands of Jew-haters

One would think that before admitting tens, let alone hundreds, of thousands of Muslims from the Middle East and North Africa (MENA), Americans might look at what bringing in millions of Muslims has done for Europe. One would also assume that American Jews would want to know how this surge in MENA Muslims has affected Jews in European countries.

But one would be wrong.

Such an approach would be rational. But for most people, the rational has no chance against the emotional.

A thousand rabbis signed a petition to bring large numbers of MENA Muslims into the United States; and virtually all Jewish organizations outside of the Zionist Organization of America (and some within Orthodoxy) have condemned the Donald Trump administration for enacting a temporary halt in accepting travelers and refugees from seven (of the world’s more than 50) Muslim-majority countries that currently have hostile, dysfunctional or nonexistent governments, for the purpose of creating a more thorough screening process.

Do these rabbis and lay leaders know what is happening in Europe?

Do these rabbis and other Jewish leaders know what it feels like to be a Jew in formerly tolerant Sweden?

Last year, the Jerusalem Post published an article about a Jewish couple who had lived in Sweden since the middle of World War II. They were Danish Jews who, as children, were smuggled into Sweden. Their gratitude to Sweden (and, of course, Denmark) has been immense.

But they have now left the homeland that saved them to live in Spain. The city in which they lived, Malmo, has become so saturated with Jew-hatred that they can no longer live there. It was caused by, in the words of the husband, Dan, “the adverse effects of accepting half-a-million immigrants from the Middle East, who plainly weren’t interested in adopting Sweden’s values and Swedish culture.”

He added that “the politicians, the media, the intellectuals … they all played their parts in pandering to this dangerous ideology and, sadly, it’s changing the fabric of Swedish society irreversibly.”

The Jerusalem Post continued: “Karla [the wife], who’d sat passively, occasionally nodding in agreement at Dan’s analysis, then interrupted, saying, ‘If you disagree with the establishment, you’re immediately called a racist or fascist.’ ” (Sound familiar?)

According to the British newspaper The Telegraph, the anti-Semitism in Malmo is so dangerous that the Danish-Jewish star of a very popular Scandinavian TV show left the show.

“Anti-semitism,” the Telegraph reports, “has become so bad in Malmo, the Swedish city where the hit television drama ‘The Bridge’ is set, that it contributed to actor Kim Bodnia’s decision to quit the show.

“Jewish people in Malmo,” the Telegraph report continued, “have long complained of growing harassment in the city, where 43 percent of the population have a non-Swedish background, with Iraqis, Lebanese and stateless Palestinians some of the largest groups. The Jewish community centre in the city is heavily fortified, with security doors and bollards on the outside pavement to prevent car bombs.”

Do American-Jewish leaders know that, for the first time since the end of World War II, the Jews of France fear to walk in public wearing a kippah or a Star of David necklace? If the rabbis and Jewish lay leaders know this, what do they assume — that Catholic or secular French anti-Semitism has dramatically spiked? Or would they acknowledge that this is a result of Muslim anti-Semitism in France?

Do these rabbis and other Jewish leaders know how much the presence of large numbers of Muslims in Europe has contributed to Israel-hatred in many European countries — especially on campuses? If they don’t, all they need to do is examine the situation on American campuses, where many Jewish students feel more uncomfortable than at any time in American history — all because of the left and Muslim student activists.

An article on the Huffington Post, presumably another racist and xenophobic website, reports:

“Migrants streaming into Europe from the Middle East are bringing with them virulent anti-Semitism which is erupting from Scandinavia to France to Germany. …

“While all of the incoming refugees and migrants, fleeing Syria, Iraq, Afghanistan and other Muslim lands, may not hold anti-Jewish views, an extremely large number do — simply as a result of being raised in places where anti-Jewish vitriol is poured out in TV, newspapers, schools and mosques. …

“ ‘There is no future for Jews in Europe,’ said the chief Rabbi of Brussels. … ”

So how is one to explain the widespread American-Jewish support for bringing in a massive number of people, many of whom will bring in anti-Jew, anti-Israel and anti-West values?

First, they are staggeringly naïve, believing, for example, that marching with signs at airports that read, “We love Muslims” will change those Muslims who hate Jews into Muslims who love Jews.

Second, never underestimate the power of feeling good about yourself for the left; that is, after all, where the self-esteem movement originated. And it feels very good for these Jews to be able to say, “Look, world — you abandoned us in the 1930s, but we’re better than you.”

And third, when American Jews abandoned liberalism for leftism, they became less Jewish, less Zionist, and more foolish.

Just ask the Jews of Sweden and France.

Dennis Prager’s nationally syndicated radio talk show is heard in Los Angeles on KRLA (AM 870) 9 a.m. to noon. His latest project is the internet-based Prager University (

President Donald Trump in Washington, D.C., on Feb. 2. Photo by Carlos Barria/Reuters

Trump team blocked State Department’s Holocaust statement that mentioned Jews

The State Department crafted a statement for International Holocaust Remembrance Day that explicitly mentioned the Jewish victims of the Nazis, but President Donald Trump’s White House team reportedly blocked its release.

An unnamed Trump official said the incident was purely the product of miscommunication, Politico reported Thursday.

The State Department’s Office of the Special Envoy on Holocaust Issues prepared a statement that it believed was written for Trump to use. The statement specifically mentioned the Jews murdered by the Nazis.

The Trump official told Politico that the president did not receive the State Department draft until after he released his own statement.

Trump’s statement, released Jan. 27, elicited a storm of criticism for failing to mention the Jews killed during the Holocaust.

The White House statement spoke of “the victims, survivors, [and] heroes of the Holocaust,” but did not specifically mention Jews or anti-Semitism, which had been customary in statements by his predecessors, Barack Obama and George W. Bush.

The Zionist Organization of America, Republican Jewish Coalition and the Anti-Defamation League were among the many Jewish groups to take issue with the omission. Sen. Tim Kaine likened the statement to Holocaust denial.

In response to the criticism, Trump administration spokeswoman Hope Hicks defended the statement as an attempt to be inclusive.

Trump’s chief of staff, Reince Priebus, said the president “has dear family members that are Jewish.”

“I recognize, in fact, obviously that that was what the Holocaust was about,” Priebus said on NBC’s “Meet the Press” last weekend.

Senior Counselor to the President Steve Bannon in Washington, D.C., on Jan. 20. Photo by Win McNamee/Reuters

Trump’s Holocaust denial, or Bannon’s?

All week I’ve been asking myself this question: Does the Trump administration’s refusal to acknowledge that Jews were the victims of the Nazi Holocaust say something about the psychology of Donald Trump, or about the ideology of his chief strategist, Steve Bannon?

After all, if something happens once, it’s a mistake. If it happens twice, it’s either a problem — or a plan.

First, the facts: On Jan. 20, 1942, the senior leaders of the Nazi regime gathered by a beautiful lake in Wannsee outside Berlin and affirmed the Final Solution against the Jewish people.   You can go there and stand in the room where it happened. You can read the documents with their signatures. I did.

Yes, the Nazis killed many people and groups of people, among them Romani, the disabled, homosexuals and Poles. But the Holocaust was conceived, planned and executed to wipe out one people — the Jews. The Germans have said this. Our new president will not.

When Trump’s speech neglected to mention the Jews, Jewish groups from across the political spectrum expressed concern and asked politely for a correction. Notably those groups included Trump allies and friends.

“The lack of a direct statement about the suffering of the Jewish people during the Holocaust was an unfortunate omission,” a spokesman for the Republican Jewish Coalition (RJC) wrote in a statement. “We hope, going forward, he conveys those feelings when speaking about the Holocaust.”

Morton Klein, president of the Zionist Organization of America (ZOA) and a longtime Trump supporter, called on Trump to “rectify this painful omission.”

The Simon Wiesenthal Center in Los Angeles politely asked that the administration “update” its statement to include the fact that the Holocaust was designed to exterminate one people, the Jews.

All Trump had to do was issue a correction, or an “update.” That would have pleased the critics, and assuaged his friends. Instead, the administration doubled down on what is essentially a lie of omission.

At a later press conference, Trump spokesman Sean Spicer said the groups that complained about the omission of Jews from the Holocaust were “nitpicking.”

“It is pathetic that people are picking on a statement,” he said.

This wasn’t just a slap at Trump’s many critics in the Jewish community, this was a middle finger to his few friends.

The ZOA’s Mort Klein heralded Trump’s election as a boon to Israel and the Jewish people, doing so even before the Republican Jewish Coalition swung on board. The RJC did eventually support Trump. And Simon Wiesenthal Center founder Rabbi Marvin Hier delivered a benediction at Trump’s inauguration, enduring sharp criticism in doing so.

But even for them, Trump wouldn’t budge. Not even on an issue of clear historical fact, a history that Hier has devoted his entire being to memorializing.

Then again, that might not be Trump, but Bannon.

But Trump wouldn’t budge. Not even on an issue of clear historical fact, a history that Rabbi Hier has devoted his entire being to memorializing.

Bannon headed the rebirth of the web site into what he described as, “a platform for the alt-right,” the neo-Nazi retreads who sport frog pins and Twitter handles like, “Chuck U Shumer.”

On Breitbart, the Holocaust controversy played out like one long dog whistle to the comments section. A few self-described Jewish supporters excused Trump because, well, boo Obama, and anyway the new president has Jewish relatives.

But for the masses, it was all Jew-bashing, all the time. It has long been the aim of European nationalists and the alt-right here to downplay the extent to which Jews were targeted, to de-Judaize the Holocaust. Trump’s statement played into that. But it was his refusal to correct or apologize that really energized the haters.

“Um the Marxists deserved to go to the camps,” commented Chuck U Shumer.

spd1275 wrote: “Too bad Hitler didn’t round up Democrats as well…”

“I bet that people who blame Trump are anti-Semites although they call themselves ADL and Zionist Organization [of America],” wrote Felix_the_cat.

“Don’t forget the REAL holocaust was 40,000,000 Orthodox Christians sent off to the gulags by the Bolshevikim in 1917, 100 years ago today,” Anteater wrote. “’The Chosen, as they called themselves … emigrated to Israel to start spreading hate and race war all over again. And then they came for me.”

It goes on and on, page after page.

What this episode says about Trump is clear. Here is a man who is willing to throw his friends under the bus without a second thought. Corner him, challenge him or even mildly correct him, and he will paint you as “pathetic” in the eyes of his real supporters.

What it says about Bannon is more disturbing. As the former head of Breitbart, he knew exactly how this controversy would land among Trump’s diehard fans on the alt-right.

“Remember Stephen Bannon’s words,” a Breitbart commenter named “Jobu” wrote to defend Spicer’s comments. “Stay vigilant and keep energized. The whole planet of globalists is at war trying to take this country and our President down.”

Maybe Trump just doesn’t do I’m sorry, but next year he’ll correct his mistakes. Maybe Trump’s Jewish supporters will forgive a bit of alt-right red meat as long as their guy comes through for Israel.

But last week is the clearest evidence we have yet that when Steve Bannon’s ideology meets Donald Trump’s psychology, terrible things can happen.

ROB ESHMAN is publisher and editor-in-chief of TRIBE Media Corp./Jewish Journal. Email him at You can follow him on Instagram and Twitter @foodaism and @RobEshman.

President Donald Trump at the White House on Jan. 27, 2017. Photo by Carlos Barria/Reuters

ZOA joins those criticizing Trump’s Holocaust remembrance statement

The Zionist Organization of America expressed its “chagrin and deep pain” that a statement by the Trump administration marking International Holocaust Remembrance Day did not mention the Jewish victims of the Nazis.

In a news release Sunday evening, Morton A. Klein, national president of the ZOA, praised President Donald Trump as a “great friend and supporter” of Israel and the Jewish people. Nevertheless, he wrote, “especially as a child of Holocaust survivors, I and ZOA are compelled to express our chagrin and deep pain at President Trump, in his Holocaust Remembrance Day Message, omitting any mention of anti-Semitism and the six million Jews who were targeted and murdered by the German Nazi regime and others.”

In his first statement about the Holocaust as president, Trump on Friday spoke of “the victims, survivors, [and] heroes of the Holocaust,” but did not mention the Jews or anti-Semitism, which had been customary in statements by his predecessors Barack Obama and George W. Bush.

The Anti-Defamation League’s CEO, Jonathan Greenblatt, criticized the statement on Friday, saying the omission was “Puzzling and troubling.”

Last year, the ZOA was one of the groups critical of Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, who delivered a statement on International Holocaust Remembrance Day that similarly failed to mention Jews.

Responding to criticism from the ADL and others, White House Chief of Staff Reince Priebus said Sunday morning that “there was no harm or ill-will or offense intended” by leaving Jews and anti-Semitism out of the statement, adding that the White House “certainly will never forget the Jewish people that suffered in World War II.”

The ZOA has been perhaps the most vocal supporter among Jewish groups of the Trump administration in its early days, issuing statements praising Trump’s choice for ambassador to Israel, David Friedman; his stated intention to move the U.S. embassy in Israel from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem, and Friday’s executive order barring citizens of seven Muslim-majority countries from entering the United States for the next 90 days and suspending the admission of all refugees for 120 days.

Recounting his own history as the son of Holocaust survivors, Klein quoted a blistering criticism of the White House by John Podhoretz, a former Reagan White House aide, who wrote in Commentary Saturday that to universalize the Holocaust “is to scrub the Holocaust of its meaning.”

Added Klein: “ZOA hopes that president Trump will direct his staff and COS Reince Priebus to immediately rectify this painful omission.”

Trump’s Israel envoy pick rattles Liberal U.S. Jews

Nearly six years ago, when President Barack Obama was set to elevate one of his top emissaries to the Jewish community to the Israel ambassadorship, Dan Shapiro asked for — and got — the endorsement of one of Obama’s fiercest pro-Israel critics.

 “Dan has always spoken to us, patiently and carefully explaining the administration’s position, and he does so with aplomb, with concern, and with intense appreciation of the other side’s position,” Morton Klein, the Zionist Organization of America (ZOA) president, said at the time.

Don’t expect J Street or the Reform movement — or, really, anyone on the liberal side of the pro-Israel spectrum — to extend that embrace to David Friedman, the bankruptcy lawyer who is one of President-elect Donald Trump’s top emissaries to the Jewish community and whom he nominated to be ambassador to Israel.

An “intense appreciation of the other side’s position” does not describe Friedman’s denigration of J Street as “not Jewish” and “worse than” Jewish collaborators with Nazis; his calling Obama “blatantly anti-Semitic”; and his lament that more than half of American Jews are not pro-Israel.

The nomination of Friedman has sent shock waves through a chunk of the organized Jewish community because of the signal it sends to the 71 percent of American Jews who voted for Hillary Clinton — one of marginalization, not of outreach. While Friedman’s nomination was hailed by a hawkish but influential minority as a sign that Israel will get the U.S. support it deserves, it possibly sidelines a pro-Israel mainstream that believes moderation best builds a pro-Israel consensus.

 “We’re all trying to figure out how to navigate this administration,” said Jeremy Burton, the executive director of the Jewish Community Relations Council (JCRC) of Greater Boston. “But the notion that someone who would represent the United States would describe people as ‘not Jewish’ and ‘kapos’  [the Jews who collaborated with the Nazi death machine], what does that say about respect for civil discourse and what does it say about temperament in a particularly volatile region?”

There are just a few ambassadors who must navigate domestic constituencies as assiduously as they do their host countries and are chosen with both audiences in mind. They include the envoys to Israel, Ireland and, occasionally, Greece and Italy.

American Jewish leaders have long expected a warm reception from their ambassador when their delegations pay a visit to Israel.

“It’s a very multifaceted position; they do a lot of outreach to Jewish communities in the United States,” Ron Halber, the director of the JCRC of Greater Washington, said of ambassadors to Israel. “It’s more than diplomatic — it’s symbolic. I’m concerned that symbol could be tarnished by someone who has staked out extreme ideological positions on internal Israeli matters.”

Those positions include a rejection of the two-state solution and unchecked expansion of the settlements — the former counter to the stated position of Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, the latter also a challenge to longstanding U.S. and international policy.

Friedman did not return a request for comment.

Many liberal Jewish groups already have denounced Friedman, citing his online history thick with broadsides against liberals, many appearing on the pro-settlement Israeli news site Israel National News, as well as his extensive fundraising for the settlement movement.

Rep. Jerrold Nadler (D-N.Y.), a Jewish congressman known for his close ties to the organized community, said in a statement that Friedman’s “extreme views and use of such hateful language is an insult to the majority of American Jews.”

J Street, the liberal Jewish Middle East policy group, joined a number of groups in pledging to do its best to keep Friedman from being confirmed by the Senate. “Friedman should be beyond the pale for senators considering who should represent the United States in Israel,” the group said in a statement.

The New Israel Fund has launched a fund-raising appeal based on what they called Trump’s “dangerous” nomination of Friedman.

Hawkish Jewish groups have welcomed the appointment, most pronouncedly Klein’s ZOA. It said Friedman has “has the potential to be the greatest U.S. Ambassador to Israel ever.”

In an interview, Klein said he stood by his 2011 endorsement of Shapiro, who strove to reach out to right-wing Jews in the United States and hard-liners in Israel as a staffer on Obama’s National Security Council and then as ambassador.

 “I said I found Shapiro to be a person of integrity,” Klein said. “That’s true of Dan and it’s true of David Friedman.”

Friedman was reported to have said earlier this month during an off-the-record portion of the annual Saban Forum colloquy of U.S. and Israeli influencers that were he to become ambassador, he would not take meetings with J Street.

 “He’s not there to represent the views of most Jews,” Klein said of Friedman, although he said he believed that Friedman’s support for moving the embassy to Jerusalem and for settlement expansion was representative of the Jewish community.

Klein said he would not use “kapos” to describe J Street, which opposes settlement expansion and advocates for an assertive U.S. posture in bringing about a two-state solution, but he understood how Friedman might have done so out of “anguish and misery.”

The Union for Reform Judaism (URJ) stopped short of saying it would oppose Friedman but expressed concerns about his statements and his rejection of the two-state solution.

In an interview, URJ President Rick Jacobs said the Reform movement has relied on U.S. administrations to represent to Israel, through their ambassadors, the broad range of American Jewish opinion. An ambassador who represented only one segment of the Jewish community would diminish attachment to Israel among Jews already unsettled by Netanyahu’s settlement policies, and by exclusion of non-Orthodox groups from civil matters like marriage and divorce, he said.

 “Our larger project has been to keep people connected to Israel,” Jacobs said of the URJ. “We may be seeing a series of policy shifts [under Trump] that make it harder for non-Orthodox Jews to see Israel as a place they love.”

Larger groups were treading carefully around the nomination. The American Israel Public Affairs Committee, in response to a request for comment, stuck to its longstanding position of not pronouncing on nominees. The Anti-Defamation League — whose leaders were called “morons” by Friedman on the eve of the election, according to Jewish Insider, a division of TRIBE Media, which produces the Jewish Journal — also was not forthcoming.

The American Jewish Committee (AJC) said in a statement that it was noteworthy that nominating a Jew for the job no longer raised hackles (that’s been the case for close to three decades) and that it wanted to know more about what picking Friedman said about Trump’s Israel policies.

 “We shall be eager to understand Trump administration policy regarding the special U.S.-Israel bilateral link, as well as the quest for a two-state Israeli-Palestinian accord — which AJC continues to believe is the only tenable solution to the conflict — and, of course, the larger regional context in which Israel lives,” the AJC said.

Nathan Diament, the Washington director of the Orthodox Union, said in reply to a JTA query that Friedman was representative of the minority of Jews (and a majority in his community) who voted for Trump.

“Trump’s selection of David Friedman to be his administration’s ambassador to Israel is consistent with the policy view Trump expressed during the campaign and consistent with the view of most of those American Jews who actually voted for Trump for president,” he said.

Burton, whose Boston JCRC called on Friedman to apologize for his past remarks, said it was key for Jews who object to Friedman not to be drawn into the polarizing invective that characterized Friedman’s writings in the past.

 “We have to acknowledge that some members of our community are optimistic about the next administration,” he said, noting parts of Trump’s Israel message that should please most Jews, including his expressions of friendship to the country and his desire for peace. “We do ourselves a disservice collectively if we are in the black or white zone on everything.”

Steve Bannon, drain the swamp

I’m not one of those people who instantly jumped on the anti-Steve Bannon bandwagon.

When President-elect Donald Trump appointed him to be his special White House adviser, a lot of people went nuts. The Anti-Defamation League registered protest. Hundreds of mostly young Jews and non-Jews gathered outside the hotel where Bannon was scheduled to appear at a Zionist Organization of America (ZOA) banquet, chanting and carrying signs aimed at Bannon, like “Shalom, Motherf—–!”.

At the time of Bannon’s appointment, I wrote that I had no idea if he is an anti-Semite. The word of an ex-wife in a bitter custody battle is hardly enough evidence to prove it, especially when people who know and work for him came to his defense. But — and this is a big but — Steve Bannon took over following the death of its founder and took it hard right. is the Dallas book depository of hate speech.

“We’re the platform for the alt-right,” Bannon told a Mother Jones journalist at the Republican National Convention in July. That boast has haunted Bannon ever since — and it should.

In an interview with The Wall Street Journal, he tried to downplay the site’s heinousness. The posts, he said, have “some racial and anti-Semitic overtones.” But Bannon said he has “zero tolerance” for those views and, in any case, he no longer has anything to do with the site.

“I took an extended leave of absence and cut all association with the site while I’m working at the pleasure of the president,” he said.

If the press, if the Republican Party, if Jewish organizations, if Jewish Republicans, if the president-elect of the United States let Bannon hide behind that excuse, they will all be guilty of mainstreaming vile hatreds — anti-Semitic, anti-Muslim, anti-immigrant, anti-women — into American society.

Because if he’s not an anti-Semite, Bannon built a lovely home where the purveyors can all meet one another, spew their stupidity from the safety of their stained couches, and thrive. And unless Bannon makes sure that Breitbart takes immediate steps to block posts and comments that fail to meet Bannon’s own professed standards of “zero tolerance,” he and his boss need to be held continually accountable.

The common response here is that on Huffington Post or other left-leaning sites vicious anti-Israel comments also appear in the comments and sometimes in articles. True, but guess what — their creators are not sitting in the White House, advising the president.

And as for Bannon’s dismissive concession that the stuff on the site has “some anti-Semitic overtones,” I wonder if he has read it.

You would think, for instance, that the comments following one story about how Islamic extremism is driving Jews from France would evoke standard Breitbart-issue Islamaphobia. Instead, the comments quickly turn to how the Jews brought on their own destruction in Nazi Europe by fomenting the pre-World War I revolutions. 

“The atheist Jews hate themselves and hate Christianity even more,” wrote commenter gotham1883.

“1933-1939? You are autistic?,” wrote ExDeo. “1933 was the year Europe freed itself from Jewish control and finally RESTORED BORDERS and ENDED DEGENERACY. If anything the modern era is reminiscent of the DECADENCE of PRE WAR GERMANY, where ALL VICES (prostitution, drug use) financed by JEWS prospered and where MEDIA/FINANCE/POLITICS were controlled to oppress Europeans.”

Here’s another comment, following Trump election news: “It seems apparent that we need to get back to what the founders intended America to be: a new homeland for White European only immigrants. Jews can go to Israel, blacks can go to Africa, etc. We don’t need the ‘melting pot’ subversive lie of Jew Israel Zangwill! Jews don’t want goyim in Israel, blacks don’t want whites in Africa, and the world is ok with that. We don’t want/need ANY of you here so GTFO as multiculturalism is a failed concept re-branded and promoted by Jews to serve their interests in every country but Israel! FACT! Game over! Go be with your people and leave us ALONE!”

Someone hiding behind the name Cannon Fodder added:  “… all I need is the glorious yuks of the left and jews destroying themselves.”

I collected those after spending five minutes on the site. As the techies say, these comments aren’t a bug of Breitbart, they’re a feature. 

Ben Shapiro, former editor-at-large of and a longtime associate of Bannon, said whether Bannon believes this garbage is irrelevant. The neo-Nazis use and the high profile of its creator to strengthen their voice and advance their agenda.

“The alt-right would say, ‘Bannon isn’t one of us. Breitbart isn’t us. Trump isn’t one of us. But they’re the most useful tool we’ve ever found,’ ” Shapiro wrote.

In that Wall Street Journal interview, Bannon said he was going to focus on jobs. Great. I hope he re-employs the Rust Belt. But on his way to making America great again, he can’t escape accountability for unleashing his Frankenstein creation that has made it worse. 

In this week’s New Yorker, Andrew Marantz describes the scene at the ZOA gala that Bannon said he would attend, but then didn’t. 

“ ‘He didn’t need to come,’ ” a man sitting at the press table said. “ ‘He just announced that he was coming and got his name kosherized in the press.’ ”

If Bannon really wants to kosherize his name, he must start with his website.

ROB ESHMAN is publisher and editor-in-chief of TRIBE Media Corp./Jewish Journal. Email him at You can follow him on Instagram and Twitter ” target=”_blank”>@RobEshman.

Bannon a no-show at ZOA dinner

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ZOA opposes AIPAC giving platform to anti-Israel group “Breaking the Silence”

It is appalling that the American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC) organized and conducted a panel discussion event for visiting rabbis in Jerusalem last month that gave a platform to the vicious anti-Israel propaganda group “Breaking the Silence” (“BtS”).

Breaking the Silence is notorious for inventing and publishing throughout the world (and providing to the already biased-against-Israel UN investigators) false, unverifiable, anonymous “testimonies” defaming and demonizing the Israel Defense Forces (IDF) as war criminals who deliberately target, shoot, and beat up Palestinian and Gazan civilians (See NGO Monitor report).  BtS also defames Jews living in Judea and Samaria with blood libels (that are then propagated throughout the world), such as falsely accusing Jews living in Judea/Samaria of “poisoning the entire water supply” of a Palestinian Arab village” and causing the “entire village being evacuated for a period of several years” – neither of which ever happened.

BtS also lectures and displays its false “photo exhibits” and “testimonies” demonizing Israel, and participates in anti-Israel, pro-BDS events in Scotland, Switzerland, the EU Parliament, South Africa, U.S. college campuses and numerous other international locales.   

The UN Report of the “Independent” Commission of Inquiry on the 2014 Gaza War quoted extensively from BtS’s false, anonymous “testimonies.” A Hamas press release complained that even more BtS falsehoods should have been included – namely, “explicit confessions” by “many soldiers affiliated to the Israeli organization of ‘Breaking the Silence’’’ of Israeli soldiers’ and officers’ “war crimes” and “direct instructions to target civilians.”

An Israeli Channel 10 study found that in a sample of ten Breaking the Silence testimonies, two claims of beating detainees and shooting innocents were complete lies, two were exaggerated and four were impossible to verify.  Mr. Admit Deri, the head of Israeli Reservists on the Front, said that the study affirmed what Reservists on the Front had been saying for months, and noted: “This is very serious research that was conducted by journalists who previously stated their support for Breaking the Silence, like Raviv Drucker. In the end it came out that the group does lie. . . . We need to exclude this organization [Breaking the Silence] from all forums and not invite them to speak.” (“More proof of Breaking the Silence’s lies,” Israel National News, July 15, 2016).

NGO Monitor estimates that Breaking the Silence receives 65% of its funding from anti-Israel European groups. BtS also receives funding from the extremist left-wing New Israel Fund (which has funded several groups that malign Israel and promote anti-Israel boycotts) and George Soros’s Open Society Institute (Soros is a notorious self-avowed anti-Zionist.)

Moreover, documents obtained by NGO Monitor (from the Israeli Registrar of Non-Profits) show that several BtS funders (including the British Embassy in Tel Aviv, ICCO (primarily funded by the Dutch government), and Oxfam Great Britain) conditioned their grants to BtS on BtS obtaining a minimum number of negative (anti-Israel, anti-IDF) “testimonies.”  See “Europe to Breaking the Silence: Bring Us As Many Incriminating Testimonies As Possible,” NGO Monitor,May 04, 2015.

The Chairman of the Jewish Agency for Israel Natan Sharansky (who was a prisoner of conscience in the ex-USSR) wrote: “Breaking the Silence Is No Human Rights Organization – and I Should Know.”

Interestingly, a video clip from the AIPAC/BtS event reveals that BtS knows full well that it is maligning the IDF to promote BtS’s political agenda.  In other words, their “human rights” label is a cover to hide BtS’s true purpose.  In the video clip, founding BtS member Yehuda Shaul admitted:  “Very deep inside, at Breaking the Silence, we don’t believe the IDF is the problem.  We believe the political mission the IDF was sent to carry out is the problem.”    (BtS Facebook page, July 14, 2016 10:37 a.m.) 

Breaking the Silence may also be engaging in anti-Israel espionage.  Israel’sChannel 2 news recently broadcast a video showing Breaking the Silence questioning ex-IDF soldiers (who were undercover agents) to obtain sensitive intelligence information about IDF security operations, equipment, tactical maneuvers, special forces deployed, and tunnel detection methods used along the border with Gaza – all of which had nothing to do with BtS’s supposed interest in exposing immoral IDF activities.   After the video was aired, Israeli Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu stated: “Breaking the Silence has crossed another red line.  The investigative security forces are looking into the matter.” See Are Breaking the Silence Traitors?, Israel National News, Mar. 23, 2016.  Israeli Tourism Minister Yariv Levin denounced and accused BtS of treason and espionage after the video aired.  See Breaking the Silence guilty of ‘treason, espionage,’ Likud minister says,” Jerusalem Post, Mar. 18, 2016.

BtS’s Facebook posting (July 14, 2016, 10:37 a.m.) boasted that “we [Breaking the Silence] took part in a panel discussion organized by AIPAC – The American Israel Public Affairs Committee in Jerusalem, conducted by the director of AIPAC in Israel.”

By organizing and conducting this event, AIPAC gave unwarranted aid, comfort, legitimacy and credibility to a vicious immoral group that invents and purveys lies that damage Israel and weaken the IDF’s ability to protect Israel and the Jewish people.  

Both personally and on behalf of the Zionist Organization of America, I thus urge AIPAC to publicly apologize and disassociate itself from “Breaking the Silence” and to publicly resolve not to organize and conduct events with BtS in the future. 

Morton Klein is the President of the Zionist Organization of America.

Officials’ name-calling aids Israel’s enemies

Israeli leaders are shooting themselves in their PR foot. There is something wrong with the tone and language of political debate in Israel. It would seem from the events of recent days –– in which Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu brought Avigdor Lieberman, head of the Yisrael Beiteinu party, into the governing coalition, replacing Moshe Ya’alon as defense minister –– that Israeli political leaders have no idea how to conduct appropriate political discourse. Instead, in their seething anger at their colleagues or opponents, they have been engaging in abusive, emotional, inaccurate and baseless language that will prove a gift to Israel-bashers, pro-BDS (Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions) anti-Semites, Israel-hating journalists and other Jew-hating propagandists.

• Tzipi Livni, former opposition leader, the Kadima Party leader, former foreign minister and now a Zionist Union member of the Knesset, described the government as “evil.” 

• Isaac Herzog, leader of the Labor Party who had just ended talks to join the Netanyahu government, lambasted Netanyahu, saying, “You are beholden to the most extremist elements, and we will fight you and them.” 

• Former Labor Prime Minister Ehud Barak warned in recent days against a “hostile takeover of the Israeli government by dangerous elements” and of Israel being “infected by the seeds of fascism.” 

• Israel Defense Forces’ Deputy Chief of Staff Maj. Gen. Yair Golan stated in a speech for Holocaust Remembrance Day that he is frightened by “the abhorrent processes that took place in Europe, and Germany in particular, some 70, 80 or 90 years ago, and [by my] finding manifestations of these processes here among us in 2016.”

• Or Ya’alon, normally a careful and understated politician, in leaving the government felt it necessary to describe what is happening in Israel as “manifestations of extremism, violence and racism,” which he says are even “trickling into the armed forces.” 

Accordingly, Israel’s enemies can now use against Israel the absurd, hysterical words of prominent Israeli officials that Israel is a racist, evil, extreme and fascist state verging on Nazism.                          

These are emotional and ridiculous political utterances –– not substantive, factual statements. Israel is a rule of law, a human rights-observing society; its armed forces the most painstakingly upright and ethical in the world, its Arab minority enfranchised and its highest leaders accountable to the law. Arabs, Christians and gays have full and equal rights, far different from the human rights-abusing situation in Arab states in the Middle East.

At a time when Israel is fighting the anti-Semitism of BDS, these officials lend fuel to the BDS movement, not to mention to the increasingly virulent hostility of journalists, of many nations and the U.N.

It is no secret that many people in Israeli public life, not least Netanyahu, who just admitted Lieberman to his Cabinet, have disagreements with Lieberman. His contentious ideas include creating a Palestinian state that incorporates Israeli Arabs in neighboring border areas of Israel, while incorporating Jewish communities in Judea/Samaria that border Israel into the Jewish state. And some are critical of Lieberman’s calling for the death of terrorist murderers and of his call to destroy the terrorist group Hamas, whose charter calls for murdering every Jew, while having launched tens of thousands of missiles against Israeli civilians. Isn’t the U.S. waging a campaign to destroy the Islamic State group, even though it operates elsewhere, whereas Hamas operates on Israel’s doorstep?

Some of these ideas are open to debate, but so are most everyone else’s. The proper way for Israeli leaders to deal with views with which they disagree is to explain to the public why they believe those views will not lead to peace and to persuade the public that their ideas are better –– not to malign the country and some of its leaders with ugly and inaccurate name-calling.

How painfully bizarre that some of these very same Israeli leaders ignore Palestinian Authority dictator Mahmoud Abbas’ alliance with Hamas, his speeches and actions inciting anti-Semitic violence and his support of BDS, and yet call him a “moderate” while using inappropriate, baseless and vitriolic terms about their own leaders and government. 

Instead, these senior Israeli figures have been unintentionally benefitting the work of the Jewish state’s deligitimizers and enemies. Imagine the boost the BDS campaign — whose raison d’être is defaming and ending the State of Israel –– will get from quoting these words for their own purposes. Imagine the inspiration and ammunition Israel-bashing politicians, academics, journalists, radical anti-Israel Arab and student groups gain from such careless language. 

Critics of the Israeli government would be well advised to pause and consider the use to which their words can be put and to adjust their language accordingly. It is a basic test of public relations prudence, which these leading Israel figures failed this past week. As the Torah teaches, words are so powerful a mountain can hang by the thread of a single word.

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

ZOA praises Trump for supporting Israel’s continued settlement activity

Donald Trump on Thursday earned high praise from the Zionist Organization of America (ZOA), a group that hosted Ted Cruz and Michelle Bachmann at its annual dinner, for expressing support for continued construction in Israeli settlements in the West Bank.

In an interview with “>radio program. “I think these Jewish extremists have made a terribly crazy miscalculation, because all they’re going to be doing by doing a ‘Never Trump’ movement is exposing their alien, their anti-American, anti-American majority position. … They’re going to push people more into an awareness that the neocons are the problem, that these Jewish supremacists who control our country are the real problem, and the reason why America is not great.”

Trump also refused to condemn his fans threatening Julia Ioffe, a Jewish journalist who write a critical story on his wife, Melania Trump. “You hated this article in “GQ” about your wife Melania. Julia Ioffe wrote it. Since then, some of your supporters have viciously attacked this woman, Julia Ioffe, with anti-Semitic attacks, death threats. What’s your message to these people when something like that happens?” Wolf Blitzer asked the presumptive Republican presidential nominee during an interview on Wednesday.  “I’ll tell you, I haven’t read the article, but I hear it was a very inaccurate article and I heard it was a nasty article… They shouldn’t be doing that with wives. I mean they shouldn’t be doing that,” he responded. “These death threats that have followed these anti-Semitic,” Blitzer pressed Trump. “Oh, I don’t know about that. I don’t know anything about that,” said Trump. “You’ll have to talk to them about it. I don’t have a message to the fans.”

“Mr. Trump can and should speak up now. If not, his silence will speak volumes,” said Greenblatt.

Ron Dermer to ZOA: We must defeat ‘militant Islam,’ but Islam is not the enemy

Taking center stage at what organizers dubbed an all-star night of Zionist heroes, Israeli envoy Ron Dermer called on the international community to wage war against “militant Islam” and simultaneously cautioned his audience against viewing Islam itself as the enemy.

Dermer, Israel’s ambassador to the United States, issued his declaration Sunday night during his keynote address at the annual Louis Brandeis Award Dinner of the Zionist Organization of America. He warned of a global network of diverse Muslim terrorist groups waging a relentless war to create a world where “women are chattel, gays are hanged and minorities are either eliminated or persecuted” — and one where Israel and the United States do not exist.

At the same time, Dermer rejected the idea that the “problem is Islam itself.”

“Faiths tend to be very malleable things,” Dermer said. “They get interpreted in different ways at different times. For most of the last 1,400 years, Islam was much more tolerant to minorities than Christianity was. Jews, of all people, should know this.”

But in the 21st century, Dermer said, “It is Muslims, not Christians, who are killing Jews in the name of religion.”

Dermer added that just as Nazism quickly came and went in Germany, the Islamic world could change again. “But for that to happen,” he said, “it is not only important to define the enemy, it is important to defeat the enemy.”

The Israeli ambassador then criticized those in the media and the international community who strongly condemn ISIS attacks in Paris but make excuses for Palestinian terrorism against Israel. Dermer did not directly criticize members of the Obama administration, but he did take aim at several of their frequent talking points — rejecting as “drivel” the idea that Palestinian terrorism is in any way fueled by Israeli policy and mocking those who respond to Palestinian attacks with calls for an end to the cycle of violence and restraint on both sides.

Dermer, who received the Dr. Bob Shillman Award for Outstanding Pro-Israel Diplomacy, stopped short of including the Palestinian Authority and its president, Mahmoud Abbas, on his list of Islamic terrorist groups. But ZOA’s president, Morton Klein, did — using his speech to compare Abbas and the P.A. to ISIS.

Klein in his more than two decades at the helm of ZOA has turned the group into a relentless opponent of the Oslo process, Israeli territorial concessions and a Palestinian state. In addition to accusing Abbas of anti-Jewish incitement, Klein called for a new law requiring the deportation of parents and siblings of terrorists who failed to condemn their relative’s actions in Hebrew and Arabic. He also issued an impassioned call to block the entry of Syrian refugees into the United States, saying many of the refugees hate Jews and Israel.

Other high-profile speakers at the ZOA dinner included casino mogul Sheldon Adelson, a mega-philanthropist and Republican donor; Michele Bachmann, a former congresswoman and GOP presidential candidate; actor Jon Voight; and Danny Danon, Israel’s ambassador to the United Nations.

During his speech, Dermer also praised the ZOA — a frequent critic of the Obama administration — for its dogged defense of Israel, and he hailed Adelson and his wife, Dr. Miriam Adelson, as the “greatest Jewish philanthropists of our time.” Event organizers offered their own tribute to Adelson, hanging a “Heroes of Zionism” banner under the dais with his image alongside seminal Zionist leaders who either laid the groundwork or were directly involved in the creation of the Jewish state — Theodor Herzl, David Ben-Gurion, Zeev Jabotinsky, Edmond De Rothschild, and two previous ZOA presidents, Louis Brandeis and Rabbi Abba Hillel Silver.

Voight, who received the Dr. Miriam and Sheldon Adelson Award, drew large applause — and a standing ovation from Adelson — with his call for a Republican to be elected in 2016. The actor, an ardent defender of Israel, was introduced by Bachmann. The former Minnesota congressman is staunchly pro-Israel, but recently found herself in the middle of controversy after telling a Christian radio show that Christians needed to “share” Jesus with as many people as possible, including Jews, because “he’s coming soon.”

Despite the controversy, Klein introduced Bachmann as part-Margaret Thatcher, part-Esther for her defense of Israel and the Jewish people. Afterward, he told JTA that Bachmann had apologized, explaining that she did not intend for her comments to be widely publicized. Klein defended Bachmann and other evangelical Christians, saying that while they believe the key to salvation for all people, including Jews, is the acceptance of Jesus, they also defend Jews and Israel. Klein said it was no different than how he as a Jew rejects fundamental tenets of the Christian faith. Klein added that he would have a problem if he knew that [Bachmann] was actively trying to convert Jews.

The ZOA’s Louis Brandeis Award went to Jack Halpern, a businessman and philanthropist who has worked to promote Israel’s development of energy sources. His father won the award nearly four decades ago.

Susan Tuchman, the director of ZOA’s Center for Law and Justice, warned of increased harassment of Jewish students on multiple college campuses, citing the organization Students for Justice for Palestine and the calls from some of its leaders for a third intifada. She called on university presidents to condemn SPJ and to hold the group’s members accountable under their schools’ anti-hate and -harassment rules.

The night also featured taped remarks from Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Alan Dershowitz, who received the Mort Zuckerman Award for Outstanding Journalism. And a late addition to the program was one of Jonathan Pollard’s attorneys, Eliot Lauer, who lamented what he described as onerous parole conditions facing his client after his release from a federal prison after serving 30 years for spying for Israel.

Lawyer: Pollard is ‘not a free man’

Jonathan Pollard’s lawyer Eliot Lauer on Sunday decried the U.S. Parole Commission’s harsh restrictions imposed on his client, especially the imposing of a 7:00pm-7:00am curfew. 

Speaking at the Zionist Organization of America (ZOA) Louis D. Brandeis Award Dinner at the Grand Hyatt in NY Sunday evening, Lauer said that while Pollard has been released from prison, “he is not free.” 

“The Parole Commission has imposed unnecessary restrictions on Jonathan’s parole: 7:00pm to 7:00am curfew, a GPS tracking 24/7, movement restricted to a small portion in NYC, and computer monitoring of the internet at home and at work,” he unveiled. “The curfew makes it impossible to attend evening religious services, and makes it impossible to participate in Shabbat dinners or holiday dinners with friends or family. It also – in NYC – makes it virtually impossible to conduct any normal profession.” 

On Friday, upon his release, Pollard filed a lawsuit in federal court in New York seeking to end what his attorneys called the “unreasonable and unlawful’’ parole conditions imposed on him. “The sole justification the Parole Commission gave for these restriction is ‘they are needed to deter from further criminal conduct.’ And yet, having being required to grant parole once it became clear there was no reasonable probability for further criminal conduct because the information, the extent Jonathan had still in his head, is 30 or 31 years old,” Lauer asserted. “Having reached that conclusion and granted parole, it is simply preposterous and disingenuous.” 

The attorney pleaded for the community’s continuous support in the campaign for Pollard’s freedom.

Dermer blasts world’s confusion on Islamic terror, treatment of Israel

The lineup of speakers at the Zionist Organization of America’s annual Louis D. Brandeis Awards dinner at the Grand Hyatt in NY Sunday evening, turned out to serve as the perfect venue for venting about Israel’s standing in the world and the offering of suggestions about the U.S. conducting the war on terror in the wake of the deadly terror attacks in Paris and in Mali.

The highlight of the dinner was when Sheldon and Miriam Adelson (“The two greatest Zionists in the World,” according to ZOA President Morton Klein) presented the “Adelson Defender of Israel Award” to Hollywood actor Jon Voight.

“Voight is the leading Zionist in the entire Hollywood genre, a giant among righteous gentiles and an extraordinary defender of Israel,” Sheldon said before presenting him the award, which he said “looks like a marriage certificate.”

Israel’s new Ambassador to the UN, Danny Danon addressed the crowd at the beginning of the event, describing his job as a defender of Israel’s policies as much harder than the work of Israel’s Ambassador Ron Dermer in Washington, DC. “I have to tell you, I have been here only six weeks, but it feels like six years,” he told the crowd that included top donors, politicians, and operatives, as well as hundreds of students, gathered in the ballroom. The UN Representative blasted the world body for referring to the wave of terrorism in Israel as a cycle of violence. “Let me be clear: there is no ‘cycle of violence.’ There’s only one side that is instigating violence and attacking Israelis for no reason other than the fact that they are Jews living in their historic homeland,” he stated.

Danon, who previously served as a minister in the Israeli government and as head of the World Likud, also made a point to declare, “We will not allow an international presence on Har Habayit – The Temple Mount. The Temple Mount is the heart of Jerusalem – our eternal and united capital.”

Ambassador Ron Dermer, who received the Dr. Bob Shillman Award for Outstanding Pro-Israel Diplomacy, delivered the keynote address. At the start of his speech, the Israeli Ambassador turned to Klein – an outspoken critic of the Obama administration – and quipped, “I have one request: every once and a while you need to get off the fence and tell the people what you really think – enough of this wishy-washiness back and forth.”

In his 30-minute speech, Dermer decried the world’s double standard when it comes to condemning terrorism directed at Israelis and its confusion in confronting ISIS and Islamic terrorism.

“Now that you’ve watched some of the 24/7news coverage, here is my question to all of you: by a show of hands, how many of you think the world has finally woken up? How many of you think the international community will now have the clarity to successfully prosecute this war and win it?” he asked the crowd. But no hands went up. “Zero, zero,” he joyously declared. “Well, I share your skepticism. Instead of clarity I see confusion – confusion over the nature of the enemy and confusion over the nature of terrorism.”

“The enemy has a name: it’s called Militant Islam. It’s not militant, it’s not Islam; it’s Militant Islam,” Dermer continued. “[But] it is not only important to define the enemy, it is important to defeat the enemy. And, once again, here I see confusion and [lack of] clarity. The main weapon of militant Islam today is terrorism, and to defeat them we must ensure that this weapon is neutralized. But to neutralize that weapon we must identify it. Terrorism is the deliberate targeting of non-combatants and is not defined by the identity of the perpetrator. Terrorism is an immoral weapon no matter what the circumstances… To counter them we need a moral antidote, we need moral outrage, and we need to deny terrorists any moral legitimacy for their actions… And here is where the world has totally and utterly failed.”

The Israeli Ambassador stressed that the world’s confusion is mostly notable with the “shameful treatment” of Israel. “Imagine what would happen if the international community said that the murderers in Paris and the French army in Syria were part of a ‘cycle of violence’ that had to stop,” he asserted. “Imagine what would happen if the UN Secretary General asked the French president and ISIS to act with restraint and work to restore calm.”

“The test … is not how [the world] responds to the terror attacks in Paris. It’s how it responds to the terror attacks in Jerusalem,” Dermer said. Adding, “When I see the Eiffel Tower lit up with Israeli Blue and White after a terror attack in Israel, then I will now that the world [has woken up and] finally gets it.”

Closing the evening was ZOA President Morton Klein. “We at ZOA will never be the ‘Sha! Shtil!’ (Hush! Quiet!) Jews of silence of the past,” he declared. “ZOA will blow, and blow, and blow its horn for the Jewish people of Israel.”

The event also featured former Congresswoman Michele Bachmann, who recently suggested that Christians should convert as many Jews possible. Klein called Bachmann the “Esther of our time” in his introductory remarks.

The National Democratic Council criticized the invitation of Bachmann. “What does ZOA have to say about Michelle Bachmann’s message that it’s more urgent than ever to convert as many Jews as possible to Christianity? Is that someone that they’d like to continue to stand shoulder to shoulder with?” the NJDC asked in an emailed statement.

Mort Klein told Jewish Insider that Bachmann apologized to him personally over the remarks, “and it was heartfelt.”

“She is an extraordinary friend of Israel and the Jewish people,” added Klein.

ZOA presses Nike on refusal to address video ad with anti-Semitic overtones

After initially raising concern on the issue this summer, the Zionist Organization of America (ZOA) is continuing to press the Nike footwear and apparel giant to remedy its promotion of a pre-World Cup animated video whose content has what critics call anti-Semitic overtones.

ZOA initially wrote to Nike on July 2, and after receiving what it considered an unsatisfactory response, sent a Sept. 18 follow-up letter to Nike that has yet to be answered. While Nike has defended the advertisement (called “The Last Game”) based on arguments that it had no intention to offend Jews and that the ad is no longer appearing on television, ZOA is asking the company to publicly apologize for the video, remove it from the public domain, and take other steps that would fall in line with how Nike addressed a past episode that offended the Muslim community.

“The video—which sends the message to ‘Risk Everything’—features animated international soccer stars competing against evil clones who have taken over the sport,” ZOA National President Morton A. Klein and Susan Tuchman, director of ZOA’s Center for Law and Justice, wrote in their most recent letter to Nike. “These evil clones are wearing uniforms with a logo virtually identical to the Jewish Star of David. Star-of-David-like images are also depicted throughout the video, including a white rectangle with a Star-of-David likeness in the center, strongly resembling the Israeli flag (without the stripes). Whether intended or not, Nike is promoting a message that is deeply offensive to the Jewish community—that Jews and Israel are evil and that one should ‘risk everything’ to defeat them.”

Others who have objected to the Nike video include the Israeli Knesset, the World Zionist Organization, and general viewers.

In their July letter, the ZOA officials wrote to Nike Chairman Philip H. Knight and President & CEO Mark Parker that “some of the animated soccer stars in the video—i.e., the ‘good guys’—are wearing shirts with a ‘Fly Emirates’ logo and a ‘Qatar Airways’ logo, which must mean that these Arab airlines co-sponsored the video. It is no secret that the United Arab Emirates and Qatar have a deeply troubling history of anti-Semitism and hostility to Israel.”

“No one should wrongly interpret the Nike video as a sign that Nike is anti-Semitic,” the ZOA letter stated. “That would not be good for the Jewish people. That would not be good for Nike.”

Nike issued two responses to ZOA’s first letter. In the first, on July 15, it wrote to Klein that it would forward his comments “to our Advertising Department for their consideration.” Then on July 28, Pierre-Laurent Baudey—Nike’s vice president of global football brand marketing—wrote to Klein and Tuchman that the logo shown on the clones’ player uniforms is a soccer ball, and that its resemblance of any other image is “entirely coincidental and unintentional.” Baudey wrote that Nike “never intended any disrespect” and that it understands “the concerns of the Jewish community.” The ad is “no longer being run on TV or in cinemas,” stated Baudey, who did not describe any actions Nike plans to take regarding the video.

“We have raised your concerns with our creative teams and Nike will be more vigilant in our oversight of graphics and images used in our campaigns,” wrote Baudey. “In this instance we can confirm our designers were focused on producing a graphic that represented a football and that there was no ill intent.”

In response, Klein and Tuchman wrote Baudey in a Sept. 18 letter that they were “taken aback” by his “indifferent response” to their concerns about the ad’s anti-Semitic content. 

In both of their letters, ZOA officials proposed that Nike take the following steps to remedy the situation: issue a public apology to the Jewish community; remove the ad from the public domain; permanently cease using any image or symbol that resembles the Star of David or any other Jewish symbol; implement organizational changes in its design department to tighten scrutiny of logo designs; investigate how an image of the Star of David came to be used; and issue a public statement that delineates “all the remedial steps that have been and will be taken to remedy the harm that Nike has caused.”

In 1997, when the Muslim community objected to a logo on a line of Nike sneakers because the logo was perceived to resemble the word “Allah,” Nike publicly apologized to Muslims for any unintentional offense, agreed to recall all products carrying the design, introduced training for Nike designers in Islamic imagery, and agreed to investigate how the design came about.

Going even further, Nike agreed to build three playgrounds for Islamic communities in the U.S., at locations determined by the Council on American-Islamic Relations.

ZOA said that while it isn’t asking for the construction of any playgrounds in Jewish communities, it expects Nike “to show the same concern about having offended the Jewish community, as it showed when the Muslim community was offended by Nike’s actions.” ZOA told Nike it would give the company 15 days to respond to the Sept. 18 letter, which to date has not been answered.

“We urge Nike to stop treating this matter without the sensitivity and concern it deserves,” Klein and Tuchman wrote. “Otherwise, we will be compelled to notify the public by articles, letters, and even advertisements, and to call on consumers to stop purchasing Nike products.”

Responding to Nike’s defense that the logo on the clones’ uniforms was intended as a soccer ball rather than a Jewish star, Klein told, “If it’s readily recognized as a Jewish star, it’s a Jewish star. … Most people [who see the ad] will think it’s a Jewish star.”

“You would have never seen this [kind of offensive ad] a year or two ago in America,” he added.

Nike did not return a request for comment from

Jewish groups as one backing congressional letter on anti-Semitism

A bipartisan congressional resolution urging increased action by the United States and other countries to address resurgent anti-Semitism has wall-to-wall Jewish organizational support.

In a letter to colleagues in the U.S. House of Representatives seeking co-sponsorship of the non-binding resolution, the initiators of the resolution make a point of noting the range of Jewish organizations backing the resolution, among them the American Israel Public Affairs Committee, the Zionist Organization of America and J Street — groups that rarely if ever join together in any action.

Reps. Jerrold Nadler (D-N.Y.), Pete Roskam (R-Ill.), Nita Lowey (D-N.Y.) and Kay Granger (R-Texas) initiated the resolution, which was introduced on July 31. The Aug. 28 letter now circulating had garnered 93 co-sponsors, also covering a political range among Congress members, by Monday.

The resolution condemns anti-Semitism particularly when it is used “as an acceptable expression of disapproval or frustration over political events in the Middle East or elsewhere.”

It also “decries and condemns the comparison of Israel to Nazis perpetrating a Holocaust or genocide as an insult to the memory of those who perished in the Holocaust.”

The resolution calls for increased education in the United States and Europe against anti-Semitism, and it urges “governments to ensure that adequate laws are in place to punish anti-Semitic violence and hate crimes as well as establish mechanisms to monitor, investigate and punish perpetrators.”

Why ZOA hasn’t commented on murder of Arab teen

American Jewish groups from across the ideological and religious spectrum have issued strongly worded condemnations of the murder of Palestinian teenager Muhammad Abu Khdier, apparently a revenge killing committed by Jews.

One exception to this chorus of denunciation was the Zionist Organization of America, a hawkish Israel advocacy group, which issued no statement.

Reached by phone on Tuesday morning, the ZOA’s national president, Morton Klein, said that he had been on vacation and away from the news over the weekend, the window during which the Israeli police announced the arrest of six suspects in the murder.

However, he quickly added that the ZOA would not have commented in any case because it does not consider the motives for the killing, or the identity of the perpetrators, to be clearly established.

“As long as there is no clarity as to whether this was an ordinary criminal act as opposed to an act of vengeance, ZOA feels it is not appropriate to make a public comment,” Klein told JTA, adding that the ZOA does not comment on ordinary criminal acts.

Israeli officials have stated that they believe the killing was motivated by a desire to avenge the murders of three kidnapped Israeli teens. But Klein said that was an insufficient basis for a statement.

“Even arrests, you don’t know whether these arrests make it clear that this was a murder of revenge,” Klein said.

Klein said that if the suspects are indicted for carrying out revenge killings, then the ZOA would make a public comment.

“We at ZOA would be horrified by any Jew who kills an Arab to take revenge for the killing of these three beautiful Jewish boys, both morally and politically,” Klein said. “If we know, we will criticize.”

But, he added: “I thought you were innocent until proven guilty. People have been indicted many times throughout history inappropriately.”

On June 30, one week before the arrest of the Jewish Israeli suspects for Khdeir murder, the ZOA issued a statement titled “ZOA Mourns Deaths Of Three Israeli Youths Kidnapped & Murdered By Palestinian Terrorists.” In the statement, the ZOA stated that the Israeli teenagers had been “snuffed out by Palestinian Arab terrorist murderers” and that “The kidnappers have been identified by Israel as Marwan Kawasmeh and Amar Abu-Eisha, who belong to Hamas.” Kawasmeh and Amar Abu-Eisha have not been indicted.

Asked about the discrepancy, Klein replied, “When you have three Jews hitchhiking and they’re killed in the car, all the authorities said that these were Arabs, and it was highly unlikely that this was Israeli Jews who kidnapped the Jews and shot them point blank. Something like that, to my knowledge, has never happened.”

Klein said, “The Palestinian Arabs have not earned our sympathy or respect,” adding, “It is a violent and hateful culture.”

He added, “I’m not gonna bend over backwards for Palestinian Arabs ever. If Israeli Jews are indicted of this heinous murder as a revenge killing, we will comment, but not before.”

ZOA is not the only right-wing Israel advocacy group that expressed doubts about the nature of Khdeir’s murder.

In a July 7 emailed statement titled “No Moral Symmetry in Arab and Jewish Murders!” Helen Freedman, executive director of Americans for a Safe Israel, wrote that her group initially questioned whether the killing was committed by Jews. But, she acknowledged, she was apparently incorrect.

She wrote:

Civilized people felt stabbed in the heart this weekend with the news that an Arab boy was abducted by six Israeli Jews and burned to death. How was one to absorb that information? We, at AFSI knew that such a deed could not be done by the observant “settlers” with whom we have bonded over the years, at whom the first finger-pointing was directed. That is why we considered the possibility that it was done by the Arabs themselves, to provide an excuse for the rampaging and rocketing (over 100 rockets into Sderot and the western Negev over the past few days) that have continued non-stop. We were apparently wrong in that regard. Further investigation will reveal more information about the murderers and their motivation.

There is no excuse and no justification for the horrific deed done by the brutal killers, but it is also important that no moral equivalency be brought here. The murderers of the three Israelis, Gilad Shaar, Naftali Frankel, and Eyal Yifrach, have still not been apprehended. Their names are known, but they are being protected by the Hamas/Fatah union. Quite the opposite has happened with the murder of Muhammad Abu Khdeir. The Israeli police were able to identify the six in record time, arrest them, and interrogate them. Justice will follow quickly.

Mort Klein on peace vs. hate

A few days before we heard the horrible news of the three boys who got kidnapped in Israel, Zionist Organization of America (ZOA) leader Mort Klein visited the Jewish Journal offices to speak to our editorial staff.

He said a lot of things over the course of a lively one-hour session, but one thing in particular stuck with me.

“I follow data points,” he said.

Klein was alluding to his background as a mathematician and, specifically, the 20 years he spent working in biostatistics. In that world, he said, his whole life was about “going where the data leads you.”

In the case of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, he has identified one data point that is larger than life and supersedes all others.

It’s the occupation.

No, not the occupation you always hear about. The occupation Klein rails against is the occupation of Palestinian hearts and minds with Jew-hatred.

This is the definitive data point. The game-changer. The decisive factor that he says makes the conflict analogous to “pancreatic cancer.”

For Klein, all other obstacles, however severe, are secondary. It’s simply impossible, he argued, to make peace with a society that has been taught to hate you and demonize you. To strengthen his point, he used the example of Israel giving up Gaza and getting only more hate and terror in return. 

Sadly, and all too often, the evidence seems to confirm his data. As recently as last week, following the kidnappings, the official paper of the Palestinian Authority (PA) published a cartoon showing the abducted Jews as three mice caught on the hooks of a fishing rod, while on its Facebook page, it published an image of a “victory sign” with three fingers instead of two. No wonder there were shots of Palestinians celebrating in the streets. And that’s just in one week.

That being said, there are difficulties with Klein’s argument. For one thing, we’ve heard it a million times before, and we’re numb to it. Many years ago, I was involved with an ad campaign that quoted a line straight from a Palestinian schoolbook: “There is no alternative to destroying Israel.”

Today, not much has changed: The watchdog group that provided that quote, Palestinian Media Watch (PMW), is as busy as ever. As anyone can see on the group’s website, the demonization of Jews and Israel is still prevalent all over Palestinian society, whether in the public honoring of terrorists or the anti-Jewish incitement in the media, mosques, schools and camps.

In other words, it’s the same old, same old — the same hatred, year in and year out. In a news-obsessed world, even an important truth can get stale.

The other difficulty with Klein’s argument is that it’s terribly inconvenient, meaning it leads to a dead end. How do you get a society that has been taught to hate you to stop hating you? And if that’s impossible, how possible can peace ever be?

Klein is unimpressed by such problems. Data is data, however stale or repetitive, however inconvenient. This academic stubbornness has surely contributed to his reputation as a tough, uncompromising, right-wing defender of Israel.

Tough guy or not, the former math whiz delivered his remarks to our staff with courtesy and grace. Beyond that, what I think made his argument compelling was that you could be a serious critic of Israeli policies and, nevertheless, have sympathy for his main point that a culture of hate suffocates peace.

But he still had to deal with the hardest question: “What do you suggest?”

Without pretending that there are easy answers, he suggested we follow the money. If we’re really serious about transforming a society of resentment into one of coexistence, the United States must make its financial aid to Palestinians conditional on the PA’s compliance with the anti-incitement clauses in the Oslo agreement.

Of course, now that the terror group Hamas has joined the PA in a unity government, a very difficult situation has been made that much more difficult.

To illustrate the danger of underestimating this difficulty, Klein brought up a veteran peace negotiator who once told him, “After we make a deal, there’s a better chance the Palestinians will stop teaching Jew-hatred.”

Ridiculing that notion, Klein compared it to a fiancé who acts in a hostile manner toward his future in-laws before the actual wedding date.

“Isn’t that the time to play nice?” Klein asked. “If you’re hostile when you need to play nice, what are the chances you’ll be nice when you can afford to be hostile?”

Looking back on 20 years of “data” on the failed peace process, Klein has concluded that the key reason it failed is that Palestinians felt they could always afford to play hostile — deal or no deal — and you can’t blame Israeli voters for taking that message to heart.

David Suissa is president of TRIBE Media Corp./Jewish Journal and can be reached at

ZOA: U.S. policy on Palestinians is ‘a diplomatic Kristallnacht’

Like many Jewish groups, the Zionist Organization of America released a statement expressing outrage at the kidnapping of three Israeli teens in the West Bank.

Like the Israeli government, the group accused the Palestinian Authority of culpability in the matter given that it is now backed by Hamas as a result of a unity agreement between Palestinian factions.

Also like the Israeli government, the ZOA criticized the Obama administration’s decision to continue working with the P.A. even though the authority is now backed by Hamas.

But the right-wing advocacy group used much stronger language in its condemnation of the Obama administration’s approach, calling it “nothing less than a diplomatic Kristallnacht.”

Monday’s ZOA statement begins as follows:

The Zionist Organization of America (ZOA) has condemned the kidnapping by the Hamas terrorist group of three Israeli teenagers, as well as Mahmoud Abbas’ Palestinian Authority (PA) for its obscene and incendiary newspaper cartoon celebrating and trivializing this horrendous, appalling crime.

The ZOA sees the kidnapping by the Nazi-like Hamas, the U.S.- and European Union-listed terrorist group that calls in its Charter for the murder of Jews, as underscoring the anti-peace nature of the PA, which recently formed a new unity regime Hamas. The ZOA also renews its criticism of the Obama Administration for not cutting aid to and ending diplomatic relations with the PA for forming this alliance with Hamas. It is nothing less than a diplomatic Kristallnacht that the Obama Administration has embraced the Hamas/Fatah terrorist alliance and publicly announced that they will continue funding the PA to the tune of some $500 million annually.

Three reasons to pay attention to the ZOA’s leadership fight

When the Zionist Organization of America’s (ZOA) delegates gather in Philadelphia on Sunday, March 9, to kick off the organization’s 97th national convention, they’ll be faced with a choice between the two men who want to lead the staunchly pro-Israel organization.

On one side stands current ZOA president Morton Klein, who has run the organization since 1994 and is seeking another term. On the other stands Steve Goldberg, a Los Angeles-based lawyer who is currently national vice chairman of the ZOA’s board.

The issues at play in this fight over the ZOA’s top job have been reported in The Journal and elsewhere: Klein is standing by his leadership, pointing to his success in reviving the organization when it faced bankruptcy and his work since. Goldberg has accused Klein of corruption, self-enrichment and mismanagement, and claims that the ZOA has lost its position among pro-Israel organizations.

Two right-leaning columnists in the Jerusalem Post have staked out opposing sides in this fight over the ZOA, suggesting that this is a hotly watched contest – but for most Jews, this battle barely matters. The ZOA, a right-wing organization, represents a small slice of the American Jewish community, and any political differences that exist between Klein and Goldberg are minimal. (Both oppose the current peace negotiations with the Palestinians; neither has any faith in the Obama administration’s diplomatic efforts to keep Iran from obtaining nuclear weapons capability.)

Still, there are at least three good reasons why engaged American Jews – even those who don’t much care for the ZOA – should pay attention to this contest, if only as an object lesson of the challenges that face all nonprofits today.

1. It’s a reminder that even large organizations are actually governed by tiny numbers of engaged laypeople.

The ZOA claims to have somewhere between 10,000 and 30,000 members. In his quest to unseat Klein, Goldberg recently circulated a web-based poll to about 1,000 email addresses of ZOA supporters. According to Goldberg, 20 percent of those emails bounced back, and only 118 individuals (about 14 percent of those who received the email) responded to the survey. Goldberg told the San Diego Jewish World that 78 percent voted for him, while only 22 percent supported Klein.

Not too many more actual votes will be cast in the official election, set to be held in Philadelphia on Sunday afternoon. About 200 delegates are expected to attend, according to ZOA Executive Director David Drimer. (Those 200 delegates might represent as many as 5,000 members, according to the ZOA constitution.)

Goldberg has made his case aggressively in Jewish community media outlets as well as in social media-driven campaign messaging. Klein, who has not faced a challenger in 20 years, has also hired an election campaign consultant, and has his own campaign Web site.

And yet, despite all this back and forth public messaging, there’s a real possibility that it might have no effect on the final election result in Philadelphia. The future of the ZOA will come down to the opinions of a small subset of its members and supporters.

2. It’s a reminder of how hard it can be to maintain a national organization.

The convention is – not coincidentally, Goldberg says – set to be held in Klein’s hometown of Philadelphia. Goldberg has made the case that voting in the ZOA’s election should be opened up to delegates unable to travel to Philadelphia, but Drimer and ZOA Board Chairman Michael Goldblatt rejected the suggestion, saying that in-person voting is required by the organization’s constitution.

The location of this convention is but one illustration of how this battle – between an East Coast established leader and a West Coast upstart – shows the difficulties associated with running a truly national Jewish nonprofit organization. Los Angeles is home to the U.S.’s second-largest Jewish community, yet the ZOA has consistently failed in recent years to establish a meaningful presence here. It hired and fired a string of regional directors — the last person to hold the post has sued the ZOA for wrongful termination – and ZOA has since moved its West coast regional office to the Bay Area.

Goldberg’s base of support is centered in L.A., and yet interest in the organization or in the upcoming election is paltry at best.

“Nobody cares,” Mara Kochba, a public relations professional from Los Angeles who supports Goldberg’s candidacy, said on March 6. “I care, and I’m doing this because I want to help Steve help save the ZOA.”

3. It’s a reminder that if you don’t do the little things right, it’s hard to do accomplish anything big.

Depending on whom you believe, the ZOA today is either (a) an established organization whose leaders have engaged in an attempt to conceal basic information from the IRS and from donors; (b) an organization that is simply having difficulty differentiating itself in the 21st century, with the arrival on the scene of new competing organizations; or (c) an organization whose current leader successfully revived it two decades ago and is now being targeted unfairly for practices that are common throughout the Jewish nonprofit world.

There are other minor issues at play in this election – Goldberg has raised questions about Klein’s management style; Klein has expressed doubts about Goldberg’s fundraising ability – but more than any other single issue, the delegates in Philadelphia will have to decide whose story to believe about the ZOA’s failure to file three consecutive years of required forms with the IRS and the subsequent loss of its tax-exempt status, which has since been reinstated.

Goldberg has accused Klein of enriching himself at the ZOA’s expense, assailing Klein for collecting millions in total compensation – $1.25 million in 2008 alone, and an average of $685,000 over the last five years. He further accuses Klein of first attempting to cover up the size of his compensation by not filing the required forms with the IRS. When the ZOA lost its tax-exempt status because of its failure to file those forms for three consecutive years, Goldberg assails Klein for not actively informing donors and others involved in the ZOA of its changed status.

Klein, for his part, has argued that his compensation package is comparable to those earned by leaders of other Jewish nonprofits, and has said that the ZOA is only one among many nonprofits that got in trouble with the IRS when the agency changed its 990 reporting rules. And Klein claims to have done nothing wrong by not actively informing donors of the change in the ZOA’s status.

Was the ZOA’s failure to file forms with the IRS due to malfeasance or mistake? That’s a question for the delegates in Philadelphia. For everyone else, though, the ZOA’s tax status woes – which have remained in the news since 2012 – are a clear lesson in what happens when an organization fails to manage its operations: it gets distracted from its basic mission.

L.A. attorney challenges Klein for ZOA top job

In the past two years, Zionist Organization of America (ZOA) President Morton Klein has had to defend himself against three lawsuits from two different fired employees, weather the temporary loss of his organization’s tax-exempt status and undergo heart surgery. At the end of 2013, he earned the dubious distinction of being named by The Jewish Daily Forward as one the five most “overpaid” leaders of Jewish organizations.  

Now, for the first time since 1993, when he unseated then-incumbent president James Schiller, Klein is facing a challenge to his leadership of the 117-year-old hawkish pro-Israel organization. Steven Goldberg, a Los Angeles-based attorney, is actively campaigning to unseat Klein at the board election to be held at the ZOA’s upcoming convention in March.

Goldberg, who was nominated in 2010 to his current position as vice chair of the ZOA’s national board by Klein at the organization’s last convention, announced his candidacy in a YouTube video released on Jan. 21. 

“I care about Israel and the Jewish people, and I believe the ZOA is a vitally important organization that really occupies a unique space in Jewish activism and the pro-Israel community,” Goldberg told the Journal in a recent interview. “But unless changes are made, the ZOA, which has existed since 1897, is not going to last much longer.”

First and foremost, Goldberg is urging ZOA members to vote Klein out and said in an interview that he advocates using the money formerly allocated to Klein’s salary —$435,050 in 2012, according to The Forward’s analysis — for increased outreach to younger people and to hire more fundraising staff.

Klein, who has been re-elected to his post by vocal affirmation at every convention held in the last two decades, told the Journal he intends to keep the job, and dismisses any suggestion that the ZOA has grown weaker under his leadership.

“The ZOA has never been stronger financially than it is today,” Klein said from his home in suburban Philadelphia on Jan. 24. “In the last six months, I’ve raised $4 million. Our budget is $4 million.” 

Klein rejects any assertion that his salary is inflated. When he took the position in the 1990s, Klein said, he helped revive the organization to the point where it has no outstanding debt — and said he took no salary for a period of almost six years. The money he’s being paid today, Klein said, is intended to make up for those years when he worked without pay. Taking into account those years, Klein said his average salary for the past two decades is “under $200,000.” 

This is not the first time Goldberg has butted heads with Klein. When the organization lost its tax-exempt status in February 2012, after failing to file three consecutive years of disclosure forms with the Internal Revenue Service, Klein sought to keep the matter quiet. Upon finding out, Goldberg first aired his disagreement with the decision inside the ZOA; when the loss became public, Goldberg spoke to the Journal and other media about his frustration with the ZOA’s response. 

Now that episode is the primary basis for Goldberg’s challenge to Klein’s leadership. And yet, so far, Goldberg’s efforts have had little noticeable effect on the organization or on Klein’s leadership of it. Klein won a vote of confidence from his board in September 2012, just days after news of the ZOA’s lost tax-exempt status broke, despite Goldberg’s lobbying of his fellow board members to oust the leader. Goldberg also strongly supported Orit Arfa, who worked for ZOA as its Los Angeles-based regional director for one year, but that didn’t stop the organization from terminating her and closing the L.A. office in November 2012. (Arfa is also a blogger from Israel for the Jewish Journal, and was formerly a freelance contributor.)

Goldberg has called his bid for the job “a long shot,” but he is calling on Klein to debate him publicly before the convention, and he has urged ZOA to open up voting to people who don’t travel to the convention, which is scheduled to take place in Klein’s hometown of Philadelphia on March 9-10. 

Both Goldberg’s requests seem unlikely to be granted. In a memo dated Jan. 30, ZOA National Executive Director David Drimer informed ZOA board members that only members present at the convention will be able to vote. (Unlike Klein, Drimer is a hired employee of ZOA, not an elected one; he declined to speak about the election, claiming that doing so could suggest he was trying to influence the outcome.) 

As for agreeing to debate Goldberg, Klein said he is hesitant. 

“I love debating,” Klein said. “I debate Arab Jew-haters all the time. I debate non-Arab Jew-haters all the time. But with someone like [Goldberg], who has personally called me names, who has promoted incredible falsehoods about the ZOA — I will think about it, but it is uncomfortable.” 

ZOA’s Klein faces challenger for first time in decades

Over the past two years, Zionist Organization of America (ZOA) President Morton Klein has had to defend himself against three lawsuits from two different fired employees, as well as to weather the temporary loss of his organization’s tax-exempt status and to undergo heart surgery. At the end of 2013, he earned the dubious distinction of being named by The Jewish Daily Forward as one the five most “overpaid” leaders of Jewish organizations.  

Now, for the first time since 1993, when he unseated then incumbent president James Schiller, Klein is facing a challenge to his leadership of the 117-year-old hawkish pro-Israel organization. Steven Goldberg, a Los Angeles-based attorney, is actively campaigning to unseat Klein at the board election to be held at the ZOA’s upcoming convention in March.

Goldberg, who was nominated in 2010 to his current position as vice chair of the ZOA’s national board by Klein at the organization’s last convention, announced his candidacy in a YouTube video released on Jan. 21.

“I care about Israel and the Jewish people, and I believe the ZOA is a vitally important organization that really occupies a unique space in Jewish activism and the pro-Israel community,” Goldberg told the Journal in a recent interview. “But unless changes are made, the ZOA, which has existed since 1897, is not going to last much longer.”

First and foremost, Goldberg is urging ZOA members to vote Klein out and said in an interview that he advocates using the money formerly allocated to Klein’s salary — $435,050 in 2012, according to the Forward’s analysis – for increased outreach to younger people and to hire more fundraising staff.

Klein, who has been reelected to his post by vocal affirmation at every convention held over the last two decades, told the Journal he intends to keep the job, and dismisses any suggestion that the ZOA has grown weaker under his leadership.

“The ZOA has never been stronger financially than it is today,” Klein said from his home in suburban Philadelphia on Jan. 24. “In the last six months, I’ve raised $4 million dollars. Our budget is $4 million.”

Klein rejects any assertion that his salary is inflated. When he took over the ZOA in the 1990s, Klein said, he helped revive the organization to the point where it has no outstanding debt – and said he took no salary for a period of almost six years. The money he’s being paid today, Klein said, is intended to make up for those years when he worked without pay. Taking into account those years, Klein said his average salary for the past two decades is “under $200,000.”

This is not the first time Goldberg has butted heads with Klein. When the organization lost its tax-exempt status in Feb. 2012 after failing to file three consecutive years of disclosure forms with the Internal Revenue Service, Klein sought to keep the matter quiet. Upon finding out, Goldberg first aired his disagreement with the decision inside the ZOA; when the loss became public, Goldberg spoke to the Journal and other media about his frustration with the ZOA’s response.

Now that episode is the primary basis for Goldberg’s challenge to Klein’s leadership. And yet, so far, Goldberg’s efforts have had little noticeable effect on the organization or on Klein’s leadership of it. Klein won a vote of confidence from his board in September 2012, just days after news of the ZOA’s lost tax-exempt status broke, despite Goldberg’s lobbying of his fellow board members to oust the leader. Goldberg also strongly supported Orit Arfa, who worked for ZOA as its Los Angeles-based regional director for one year, but that didn’t stop the organization from terminating her and closing the L.A. office in November 2012. (Arfa is also a blogger from Israel for the Jewish Journal, and was formerly a freelance contributor.)

Goldberg has called his bid for the job “a long shot,” but he is calling on Klein to debate him publicly before the convention, and he has urged ZOA to open up voting to people who don’t travel to the convention, which is scheduled to take place in Klein’s hometown of Philadelphia on March 9-10.

Goldberg’s requests both seem unlikely to be granted. In a memo dated Jan. 30, ZOA National Executive Director David Drimer informed ZOA board members that only members present at the convention will be able to vote. (Unlike Klein, Drimer is a hired employee of ZOA, not an elected one; he declined to speak about the election, claiming that doing so could suggest he was trying to influence the outcome.)

As for agreeing to debate Goldberg, Klein said he is hesitant.

“I love debating,” Klein said. “I debate Arab Jew-haters all the time. I debate non-Arab Jew-haters all the time. But with someone like [Goldberg], who has personally called me names, who has promoted incredible falsehoods about the ZOA — I will think about it, but it is uncomfortable.”

ZOA: Iran deal is Munich, Obama is Chamberlain

Never an organization to mince words in its criticism of President Barack Obama’s Middle East policies, the right-wing Zionist Organization of America blasted the interim Iran deal in the strongest terms:

The Zionist Organization of America (ZOA) has described the agreement concluded over the weekend in Geneva between  the P5+1 –– the five permanent members of the United Nations Security Council (Britain, China, France, Russia, the United States) and Germany –– and the Islamic Republic of Iran as an appeasement deal. This is our era’s new Munich and President Barack Obama and Secretary of State John Kerry are the new Neville Chamberlains.

Other prominent Jewish groups — including AIPAC and the Anti-Defamation League — have also expressed strong reservations about the deal, but perhaps none in language quite so barbed as the ZOA. Meanwhile, the Jewish community’s main policy umbrella body struck a tone of very cautious semi-optimism.

But in its blunt expression of dismay, the ZOA’s statement may actually be the closest in tone to the response of Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. While Netanyahu refrained from name-calling, he did call the agreement a “historic mistake” that “made the world a much more dangerous place.”

Zionist leader offers doubt about Shangri-La verdict

After the Hotel Shangri-La in Santa Monica and its owner, Tehmina Adaya, were found guilty in August of discriminating against a group of Jews who had come to a party held on the hotel pool’s deck, Steven Goldberg, national vice chair of the Zionist Organization of America (ZOA), announced his group’s intention to protest outside the hotel. 

A Shangri-La representative reached out to Goldberg, who eventually called off the protest after the hotel offered concessions, which included granting a local Zionist group the right to hold a party at the hotel. The party — a Purim-themed costume party to benefit a new hardline group called the Creative Zionist Coalition (CZC) — took place on Feb. 24. 

Standing on the balcony of the Shangri-La’s penthouse suite overlooking the Pacific Ocean, Goldberg said he had, in the six months that had passed since the trial concluded, developed some doubt about what may actually have transpired at the hotel more than two years ago.

“She shouldn’t have kicked them out,” said Goldberg, an experienced litigator, referring to actions taken by Adaya and hotel staff during a July 2010 party to benefit the Friends of the Israel Defense Forces’ young leadership division. 

But from what he had heard and read in press accounts of the trial, Goldberg said he is not certain that Adaya actually made the profane, inflammatory and anti-Semitic comment that one employee (who did not testify at trial) alleged to have heard her say. 

Nevertheless, Goldberg, who was honored at the party, was still happy to get the chance to celebrate at the hotel. 

“If she [Adaya] is an anti-Semite, then there’s no more significant location; it’s like having it in the Al-Aqsa Mosque,” Goldberg said, referring to a Muslim holy site that sits on the Temple Mount in Jerusalem. “If she isn’t, well, it’s still a nice way of reaching out. And they’ve been nothing but gracious to us.” 

Orit Arfa, who founded the CZC earlier this year after being fired by the ZOA last November, presented Goldberg and the evening’s two other honorees — anti-Islam activists Pamela Geller and Robert Spencer — with goblets, each one inscribed with a Purim-themed honorific. 

Geller most recently made headlines by posting ads on public transit in various American cities urging commuters to support Israel against “savage” Muslims. Addressing a crowd of about 100 people, Geller said winning the right to hold a Zionist event at a hotel owned by Adaya, who is a Muslim, was “a big deal.”

“Oh it’s huge, it’s huge, and kudos to Orit,” said Geller, her red hair and long white dress ruffled by the chilly ocean breeze. “If you’ve read the Quran, you know that Islamic Jew-hatred is a religious mandate.” 

In the courtroom where the original trial took place, less than a mile from the hotel, a judge on Jan. 31 denied a motion for a new trial submitted by the new lawyers representing the hotel and Adaya. The hotel’s lawyers have said they intend to appeal in a higher court. 

On Feb. 11, the judge ordered the defendants to pay the plaintiffs’ attorneys fees, which amount to $2.1 million, bringing the total penalty levied against Adaya and the hotel to about $3.7 million. 

Zionist group to honor anti-Islam activists at Hotel Shangri-La

When the Muslim part-owner of a Santa Monica boutique hotel was found guilty last year of discriminating against a group of Jewish patrons, the hotel announced it would host a party for a Jewish group as part of its efforts to repair its reputation. Now, the Zionist group whose party is scheduled to take place at the hotel on Feb. 24 plans to use the occasion to present awards to two of the United States’ most outspoken anti-Islam activists — Pamela Geller and Robert Spencer.

Orit Arfa, former executive director of the Western Region of the Zionist Organization of America (ZOA), is organizing the party as a benefit for her new organization, Creative Zionist Coalition (CZC).

In August, a jury found the Hotel Shangri-La and its part-owner, Tehmina Adaya, guilty of discriminating in 2010 against 18 plaintiffs — most of them young Jews — when she disrupted a party organized by the local youth division of the Friends of the Israel Defense Forces. In response to the verdict, Arfa and ZOA National Vice Chair Steve Goldberg announced plans to hold a protest outside the Shangri-La, but cancelled the protest when Adaya, who is of Pakistani descent, agreed to host a party at the hotel for leaders of the Jewish and pro-Israel community.

Earlier this month, lawyers for Adaya and the Shangri-La filed a motion requesting a retrial of the case, but the party planning appears to be proceeding unabated.

According to an email sent by Arfa on Jan. 18, the Feb. 24 event at the Shangri-La will be a costume party and “a celebration of Jewish heroism in the face of Jew-hatred,” taking place on the evening after Purim. At the event, Geller will receive the “Queen Esther Award for Jewish Heroism,” and Spencer will be honored as “Righteous Gentile.” Both are expected to attend, Arfa said.

A third award, named for Haman, the villain of the Purim story, was also announced in the Jan. 18 email; it will be presented in absentia to Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas, “for Jew-hating villainy.”

Geller is the prolific blogger who led opposition to the construction of an Islamic center in Lower Manhattan, which she dubbed “the Ground Zero Mosque.” She also made headlines in 2012 when one of her organizations, the American Freedom Defense Initiative, posted pro-Israel ads in the New York City subway system referring to enemies of the Jewish state as Jihadist “savages.”

Geller is a divisive figure in the Jewish community, as well. In June 2012, the Jewish Federation of Greater Los Angeles barred Geller from delivering a speech about “Islamic Jew-Hatred” at a ZOA-sponsored event that had been scheduled to take place at its Wilshire Boulevard headquarters.

Arfa organized a protest outside the Federation building on the morning that Geller was prevented from speaking there. Subsequently, in November, Arfa was fired from her position at ZOA after internally questioning ZOA’s leadership’s decision to, in her words, “conceal” its loss of tax-exempt status earlier that year. The ZOA’s Western Region’s office, which had ben located in Federation headquarters, is currently in the process of relocating to San Francisco.

The ZOA, which has filed all the papers necessary for reinstatement of its tax-exempt status, had planned to co-sponsor the Shangri-La event with CZC, but it pulled its co-sponsorship a few weeks ago. Nevertheless, Goldberg said, plans for the party are moving ahead, and he said he does not expect any resistance from the hotel.

“They didn’t say, ‘We have to approve who’s going to come,’” Goldberg said. “The hotel’s actually been very cooperative.”

“What are they going to do?” he added, “say ‘This is too pro-Jewish?’ They’re going to throw another Jewish group out?”

Ellen Adelman, chief development officer at the Shangri-La said in an emailed statement that the hotel “is committed to enhancing understanding and cooperation between people of all backgrounds and cultures, and to embrace differences.

“Our hope is that we can come together and celebrate the theme of their party – Purim – a holiday designed to bring people together,” Adelman wrote.

Jews and guns: A day on the firing range

Susanne Reyto carefully loaded her rifle and switched the safety off. Peering into the scope attached to the top of the weapon, she pulled the trigger while former U.S. Army platoon leader Charlie Jasper looked on to ensure she was handling her weapon safely.

To their right, 29-year-old Sean Constine loaded bullets into his rifle’s magazine. Then he picked up the rifle and, having located his target — a steel plate attached to the top of a pole approximately 50 yards away — fired away.

Meanwhile, Jonathan Stern, a former member of the Israel Defense Forces (IDF), corrected the shooting stance of a 20-something who’d never fired a weapon before.

They were among 25 individuals who visited the gun range at the Oak Tree Gun Club in Santa Clarita on Dec. 2 to fire rifles and handguns. Organizers of the daylong event said its purpose was to show that learning how to fire a gun can be a powerful experience that Jews, in particular, can benefit from.

“We wanted an event that was empowering, and we wanted an event that also discussed the moral imperative of Jewish self-defense,” said Orit Arfa, who organized the event. “Learning how to use a gun is, hopefully, not something that every Jew will have to take upon themselves, but we think learning how to use a weapon and not being afraid of using a weapon will influence people toward a certain courage.”

Arfa called the event timely, too, casting it as a way to celebrate Chanukah, which begins at sundown on Dec. 8 and commemorates a “Jewish victory achieved by Jewish warriors who took it upon themselves to rise up in arms.”

Zionists of Los Angeles, a Los Angeles-based ad hoc group created by Arfa, put on the event after the original sponsor, the Zionist Organization of America’s (ZOA) Western Region, opted out before the event took place, according to Arfa. (A former executive director of the ZOA-Western Region, Arfa was fired from the position last month.)

Jessica Felber, chair of ZOA-West’s young professionals group, helped plan the event, and most of the participants included adults in their 20s and 30s who regularly attend its programs. But others turned up as well, including Reyto and her husband, Robert, who is in his 70s. 

Hired instructors included Jasper, whose service in the Army included a 2008 stint in Iraq, and Stern, a professional shooting trainer who fought in the IDF during the Second Intifada as part of an infantry unit and as a sharpshooter.

Other instructors also had connections to the IDF. Shimi Baras, a shaliach (emissary) for Bnei Akiva of Los Angeles, a Zionist youth group, was a former member of the IDF, and several participants claimed that Avichai Perez serves on Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s personal security team. (When asked if this was true, he said it was classified, but showed identification indicating that he works in the Defense Department in the office of the prime minister.)

The instructors weren’t the only ones with prior shooting experience. Some of the participants drew on a range of firearm knowledge.

Constine came in with so much experience firing guns, in fact, that he became a de facto instructor, showing other participants how to hold their weapons properly. A graduate of Emory University, Constine made aliyah in 2005 with the help of Garin Tzabar, a program that facilitates serving in the IDF for Diaspora Jews. He then served in the army.

“The idea of a strong Jew very much appeals to me,” said Constine, who saw combat in Lebanon and in the West Bank while serving in an infantry unit. He currently lives in Los Angeles.

Robert Reyto may have been the oldest person in the pack, but that certainly didn’t put him at a disadvantage. Born in Hungary, he suffered through Nazi Germany and communist Hungary. During the ’60s, Reyto served in the U.S. Navy, working as a dentist in a naval construction battalion unit. 

But, for some, it was their first time handling a weapon. That included Paula Perlman, 26, a graduate of California State University, Northridge; Tamar Union, 27, college campus coordinator at the Jewish outreach group Aish Los Angeles; and Susanne Reyto.

The latter struggled to see through her weapon’s scope, everything appearing as a blur. Still, she said, she was grateful for the opportunity to learn how to protect herself. Like her husband, Susanne, 68, who was born in Budapest one week before the Nazis invaded Hungary, lived through the Holocaust, during which she hid in a cellar with her mother. 

Gunshots filled the air as the group walked past the outdoor gun club’s shotgun skeet-shooting range and approached the rifle range. As they waited in a line to rent weapons and ammunition, the gunshots startled those who had never been to a shooting range before.

Before meeting at the gun range — where they took turns firing M4 semiautomatic rifles for nearly an hour, then moved on to handguns — the group gathered at a sports-memorabilia clubhouse owned by Marvin Markowitz, who also owns Factor’s Famous Deli. There, Stern, a member of the National Rifle Association, led a training session on gun safety and spoke in strong support of gun ownership. 

Not everyone agreed. Constine said he is in favor of gun control. 

“Israel and America are vastly different places. In Israel, you need to carry a gun. Here, you don’t,” he said.

Stern also spoke about what he called the problem of American Jews viewing themselves as victims of persecution. Learning how to operate a gun is a way to change that mindset, he said.

The people who participated in the event won’t be turning into Moshe Dayan overnight, he said, referring to Israel’s famous military leader. But, he concluded, this was a step in the right direction.

ZOA fires L.A. director Orit Arfa

Orit Arfa, executive director of the Zionist Organization of America’s (ZOA) Western Region, was fired from her job on Nov. 19, one day after she addressed a crowd at a pro-Israel rally in Los Angeles that she helped organize, telling the crowd she was “proud” to work for the ZOA. National Executive Director David Drimer informed Arfa in person that the ZOA will close its Los Angeles office and move its West Coast operations to San Francisco.

Drimer said a donor, whom he declined to name, has offered to fund the new office and pay the salary of a new executive director.

“This is a tremendous opportunity for the ZOA to expose its message to an important Jewish community that has not been fully targeted by us in the past,” Drimer said in an interview when contacted by the Journal.

The ZOA has had a tumultuous last few months, during which time the organization canceled its annual fundraising dinner and has been working to mitigate the negative consequences of its losing of its 501(c)(3) status in February 2012.

Prior to her termination, Arfa, who before joining ZOA a year ago was a regular contributor to this newspaper, and who continues to blog for the Journal, wrote at least one internal memorandum to her bosses opposing the ZOA’s decision not to proactively mention the loss of the organization’s tax status.

ZOA national vice chair Steven Goldberg, an attorney who has publicly criticized various aspects of the ZOA’s operations and vocally called on the organization to be more proactive in disclosing its loss of tax-exempt status, said he believes the decision to close the Los Angeles office was done in retaliation against Arfa for speaking up, and that the ZOA’s national leadership could be subject to litigation for taking such action.

“You can’t be fired because you’ve insisted on behaving legally and ethically, because you resist an illegal order,” Goldberg said on Monday.

Drimer rejected any speculation that Arfa is being targeted.

“She was assured in writing that she was in no trouble for expressing her concerns,” Drimer said. “There’s nothing retaliatory about it.”

Arfa has been mentioned frequently in articles since the ZOA’s lost tax status became public in September, but she has not consented to any interviews. She confirmed on Monday afternoon only that she had been terminated, but declined to answer further questions.

Drimer said he believes the ZOA’s lay leadership in Southern California will be strong enough to sustain the organization’s local operations without the help of a paid executive director. But, according to Goldberg, the ZOA’s chapter in Orange County disbanded recently.

Goldberg shared with the Journal an e-mail sent by Jesse Rosenblum, president of the ZOA’s Orange County chapter, to ZOA National President Mort Klein on Nov. 18, in which Rosenblum informed Klein that he had resigned his position as chapter president on Nov. 12, and that the chapter had subsequently passed a motion to disband.

When contacted on Nov. 19, Rosenblum declined to comment, and Drimer said he had no knowledge of the chapter’s having disbanded.

Drawing 1,400, peaceful L.A. pro-Israel rally turns ugly near its end [VIDEO]

With an Israeli flag wrapped around him, Rabbi Dov Elkins stood with a crowd outside the Federal building in West Los Angeles on Sunday to participate in a pro-Israel rally.

“We’re here to support Israel,” Elkins, 75, said, joined by his wife, Maxine. Residents of Princeton, N.J., the couple were in L.A. visiting their children and grandchildren; they had attended Shabbat services at the Pico-Robertson shul the Happy Minyan on Saturday, and when the rabbi announced that a pro-Israel event would be taking place the next day, they decided to attend. 

“We wouldn’t be anywhere else,” Maxine Elkins, 65, said, adding, “I’m a Jew, and this is the least American Jews can do — to come here and support Israel.”

As many as 1,400 demonstrators turned up on the afternoon of Nov. 18 to support Israel, according to police on the scene.  They came in the wake of the recent violence between Israel and Palestinians living in the Gaza Strip. For approximately one week, Israel has responded to ongoing, indiscriminate Palestinian rocket fire with targeted air strikes aimed at killing Hamas military leaders and destroying weapons caches.

Story continues after the jump.

Video by Jay Firestone

The demonstration was organized by the pro-Israel organizations Stand With Us, the Israeli-Leadership Council (ILC) and the Zionist Organization of America-Western Region (ZOA). Jews of all denominations came out for the rally, staged outside the Westwood Federal Building at the intersection of Wilshire Boulevard and Veteran Avenue, including Americans, Israelis and Jews of Iranian heritage.

About 100 pro-Palestinian supporters held a counter-demonstration across the street, on the north side of Wilshire Boulevard.

For the most part, the three-hour event was peaceful, but during the final hour, the situation became heated when a fight reportedly broke out between a pro-Palestinian protestor and pro-Israel protestor. Police officers from the Los Angeles Police Department, the Los Angeles County Sherriff’s Department and California Highway Patrol officials were on scene.

In response, pro-Israel supporters charged over to the Palestinian side of the street. Police officers stepped in to bring the Israel protestors back to their side.

Demonstrators waved Israeli and American flags along with signs with slogans such as: “Israel Deserves Security;” “Hamas is the Enemy of Peace;” “Gaza Children Deserve Education Not Military Training” and more.

Community leaders supporting Israel included Los Angeles County Supervisor Zev Yaroslavsky, Los Angeles City Councilman Dennis Zine and Los Angeles City Controller Wendy Greuel, a 2013 mayoral candidate. Also present were Rabbi David Wolpe of Sinai Temple, Rabbi Shlomo Cunin, West Coast director of Chabad-Lubavitch, Rabbi Stewart Vogel of Temple Aliyah, Rabbi Avi Taff of Valley Beth Shalom, Rabbi Jason Weiner, a chaplain at Cedars-Sinai Medical Center and Rabbi Morley Feinstein of University Synagogue.

“We are here to protest the necessity of peace, the danger of those who would seek to destroy us and our determination to live both in strength and with justice and with peace,” Wolpe said.

Am Yisrael Chai,” he added.

Other speakers included Israeli actress Noa Tishby, ILC chairman Shawn Evenhaim, Roz Rothstein, CEO of Stand With Us and Orit Arfa, executive director of the ZOA-West.

Sam Yebri, president of 30 Years After, a nonprofit that organizes Iranian-American Jews in political, civic and Jewish life, was among a group of Iranian-American Jews in attendance. In addition, the Israeli Scouts of Los Angeles, a youth group from the San Fernando Valley, brought 47 teens.

All ages attended to show support for Israel. Chloe Bismuth, a 20-year-old UCLA student who said she travels to Israel every year, showed up with her knuckles painted to spell out “Israel” and tiny Israeli flags painted onto her cheeks. Israel is a “country all of us as Jews should rely on,” she said, “all of us who believe in democracy.”

Pinhas Avgani, 63, Israeli and a Woodland Hills resident, was among the dozens who gathered on the sidewalk at the southwest corner of Wilshire-and-Veteran to chant and wave flags, standing as close to the street as police officers would allow.

“When [Palestinians] put weapons down, there will be peace. If Israelis are going to put their weapon down, Israel will disappear,” Avgani said.

Naz Farahdel, a 24-year-old Iranian American Jew and a law clerk at the city attorney’s office, turned out with two friends, also Iranian American Jews.

The pro-Israel side aimed for a broad celebration of Israel. Upbeat Israeli music played loudly; people came together for Israeli dancing, and the crowd sang the Hatikva.

Until the pro-Israel charge across the street, the pro-Israel side stayed on the southwest and southeast corners of Wilshire-and-Veteran.  A line of hundreds of demonstrators began at the southwest corner of the intersection, extending eastward, halfway down the block toward Sepulveda Boulevard. People led Israel chants, speaking into bullhorns. Passing cars honked horns and waved Israeli flags out of the windows. Meanwhile, LAPD helicopters circled overhead.

On the Palestinian side demonstrators carried signs expressing support for Palestinians and also denouncing Israel and the United States: “Resist Zionism and Imperialism;” “Let Gaza Live: Free Palestine” and “Stop U.S. Aid to Israel.”  One banner read: “It’s not a war. In Palestine, it’s genocide.”

When the pro-Israeli group crossed the street after the disruption began, Rothstein called the Israel protestors back to their side. Soon, nine California Highway Patrol and Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department vehicles parked in a line in the center of Wilshire. Police officers stationed themselves on foot at all four corners of the intersection, keeping the crowds to the sidewalk. Officers stood by the parked vehicles.

Chants turned ugly. When the Palestinian side chanted, “Free, free Palestine,” a man on the Israel side yelled back, “Bomb, bomb Palestine.”

Angering many on the Israel side, a pro-Palestinian demonstrator tied an Israel flag to his leg and let it drag in the street. A group of male teenagers, a middle-aged man and two elderly women on the Israel side responded by yelling out insults and curses.

Around 3:45 p.m., Rothstein, in cooperation with law enforcement, told demonstrators on the Israel side to go home. Rothstein had initially told law enforcement that the event, which began at 1 p.m., would end no later than 3:30 p.m. By this time, attendance of both sides had dwindled, but a sizable Israel group and a small Palestinian group remained.

LAPD officers accompanied the Palestinian protestors as they crossed to the pro-Israel side to walk toward their cars in the Federal building parking lot, where most of the demonstrators from both sides had parked. “We want to get those folks safety out of here,” a Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department official told Rothstein.

Rothstein joined a police officer in a police car and using the car’s loudspeaker asked everyone on the Israel side to leave, as the car inched slowly in front of the pro-Israel crowd. “Thank you for your cooperation. Thank you for being here,” she said.

By 4 p.m., most demonstrators on both sides departed.

Rothstein acknowledged that the pro-Israel side had engaged in some bad behavior. “It is kind of why I sometimes worry about putting these things on. You never know who is going to show up,” she said. “But it’s a community and we have a tapestry.”

While the Palestinian side was small compared to the Israel side on Sunday, on Nov. 15, hundreds of pro-Palestinians had rallied outside the office of the Consulate General of Israel in Los Angeles, near Wilshire and Barrington avenue. There, one attendee blamed Israel for the recent violence. “It’s saddening but it’s not shocking, and if you’ve been following the news today [Nov. 15] it had been reported that Israel had broken the cease-fire first. Unfortunately Western media has not been quick to follow up on that regard,” she said.

“But regardless I support neither Hamas or Israel. What I support is the liberation of the Palestinian people,” she added.

In addition to Sunday’s rally, local initiatives are showing solidarity with Israel, including a project organized by the Jewish Federation of Greater Los Angeles that enables people to post messages onto the Federation website in support of the children of Israel.

ZOA L.A. office in doubt

Citing budgetary pressures, the Zionist Organization of American (ZOA) will vacate the small office it has rented in The Jewish Federation of Greater Los Angeles headquarters on Wilshire Boulevard later this month. 

The pro-Israel nonprofit exercised an opt-out clause in October, passing up the chance to renew its one-year lease on a small office space on the building’s fifth floor, for which it has paid somewhere between $800 and $1,000 each month, according to officials from ZOA and Federation. 

National Executive Director David Drimer called the move part of an effort to cut costs;  ZOA’s tax-exempt status was revoked earlier this year, and the organization is currently unable to access any new donations. 

“It’s prudent to show that we’re managing the company in a cost-conscious way, no matter what the expense,” Drimer said. 

Drimer said the decision to move the office occupied by Los Angeles Regional Executive Director Orit Arfa out of the Federation building is not yet final, but as of Oct. 29, both Drimer and Federation confirmed that no talks had begun to discuss the group’s continuing on as a tenant. “This is what happens in the office-space business,” Federation President Jay Sanderson said. 

Drimer said ZOA, which has also put its annual fundraising dinner “on hold” this year, is paring back in many ways. 

Of the five regions where ZOA has a full-time executive director, one already works from home, Drimer said, adding that cuts were being made throughout the organization, including reducing the number of students participating in the upcoming mission to Israel to 15 from the usual 24. Drimer also said that at least one ZOA staff position that has been vacant since August will remain unfilled to reduce spending. 

But whether the spirit of austerity extends to the man who has held ZOA’s top job for the past 18 years is unclear. 

According to documents shared by ZOA with the Journal, ZOA National President Morton Klein has received a total of $1.7 million in compensation from ZOA over the years 2009-2011, and could be owed as much as $1.4 million in additional deferred compensation. Asked on Nov. 2 whether Klein himself had taken any voluntary pay cuts to ease the current burden on his organization, Drimer referred the Journal directly to Klein, who Drimer said was traveling in California. 

An e-mail sent to Klein and Drimer on Nov. 2 garnered no response, and on Nov. 5, Drimer wrote in an e-mail that Klein was unwell and would not speak with the Journal. 

Arfa also declined to be interviewed. 

The austerity measures trace back to the Internal Revenue Service revocation of ZOA’s tax-exempt status in February 2012, after ZOA failed to file its required tax forms for three consecutive years. 

The 115-year-old organization filed the required forms belatedly on Oct. 31 of this year, Drimer said; for now, however, all new donations to ZOA are being redirected to a nonprofit entity that will hold the monies until ZOA’s tax-exempt status is reinstated. 

ZOA hasn’t ceased operating, though. With assets of about $6.3 million in cash and other investments and a building owned by the organization valued at $18 million, ZOA has been funding its operations with existing funds. 

“We try to prioritize, just like any company, Drimer said of the possible closing of the L.A. space. ZOA National Vice Chair Steven Goldberg, however, saw the cut as possibly an attempt by Klein to retaliate against Arfa, who has been a vocal internal critic of the organization’s handling of its loss of tax status. 

In an internal ZOA memo dated Oct. 12 obtained by the Journal, Arfa expressed significant reservations about what she said were Klein’s requests that she conceal ZOA’s lost tax status, calling such actions “unethical and disingenuous.” 

“There’s no longer any pretense by Mort Klein that he’s acting in the best interests of the ZOA,” said Goldberg, who called for Klein’s resignation in an interview with the Journal in September. “It’s all about being spiteful and punitive against Orit Arfa and me for insisting that the organization behave legally and ethically.”

Goldberg, a Los Angeles-based lawyer who has emerged as the lone, loud voice of dissent on ZOA’s national board, was referring to his belief that the organization should proactively inform donors and the public about its loss of tax-exempt status. 

Drimer, who dismissed Goldberg as a “rogue board member,” rejected one claim Arfa made in her Oct. 12 memo, that Klein had instructed her “not to mention the loss [of tax-exempt status] at all” to potential donors. 

“Neither she nor any other ZOA employee has ever been encouraged to mislead anyone about the ZOA’s tax status,” Drimer said.  

The loss of tax-exempt status appears to have discouraged contributions from at least some potential ZOA donors; along with her Oct. 12 memo, Arfa submitted three e-mails as evidence of this. One came from Jesse Rosenblum, president of ZOA’s Orange County chapter, who said, “the ZOA image in the community is now at an all time low.” Another came from Mark Tannenbaum, who, in response to Arfa’s invitation to join the local board, wrote that he was “too uncomfortable” with ZOA’s loss of tax-exempt status and with Klein’s “excessive” salary to join. 

The third e-mail attached to Arfa’s memo was from Lew Groner, director of marketing and communications at the Jewish Community Foundation of Los Angeles. In an e-mail sent to Arfa on Sept. 28, Groner called ZOA’s loss of tax-exempt status a “game-stopper.” 

“I can imagine the ZOA’s non-filing of tax returns is an impediment for your fundraising efforts; don’t see how it could be otherwise,” Groner wrote. “Quite frankly, it doesn’t look good, smell good or feel good to any reasonable donor.”  

In addition to the uncertainty surrounding her future tenancy at Federation’s headquarters, Arfa has been getting other mixed signals from ZOA’s leadership. 

On Nov. 2, Arfa, after being informed by another ZOA employee that her account of her region’s activities would be omitted from ZOA’s upcoming annual report, sent an e-mail to Klein and Drimer asking why. The decision was reversed a few days later, but Goldberg, who was copied on Arfa’s e-mail to Drimer and Klein and shared it with the Journal, said he believes Klein has been threatening Arfa with termination, and that she wasn’t the only ZOA employee to feel that way. 

“The vast majority of employees, including in New York, are concerned about what’s going on,” Goldberg said. “Most if not all of the employees are working in fear of losing their jobs.”

Drimer rejected Goldberg’s assertion about Arfa. 

“Orit Arfa’s job has never been threatened in any way because of her questions on these matters,” Drimer said.

 But if the loss of tax-exempt status and the subsequent controversy has roiled ZOA’s leaders, members and donors in Los Angeles, the same can’t be said of all the organization’s chapters. 

The ZOA Michigan chapter in suburban Detroit is known to be the most independent of the regional chapters, and its president, Eugene Greenstein, told the Journal that his group was not involved in the internal politics playing out at the national level. 

 “We are minding our business and running our programs,” Greenstein said. “And we support the good work of the national organization.”