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Young Jews Call For Zionist Organization of America President to Be Censured for Racism

Dozens of young Jews are calling to Klein to face consequences for "a pattern of racist and Islamophobic behavior."
[additional-authors]
April 27, 2020
Morton Klein (Mort Klein), President of the Zionist Organization of America, at the American Zionist Movement / AZM Washington Forum: Renewing the Bipartisan Commitment Standing with Israel and Zionism in the Capitol Visitor Center in Washington, DC on December 12, 2018. (Photo by Michael Brochstein/Sipa USA)

Zionist Organization of America President, Morton Klein, caused a stir when former HIAS chair Dianne Lob was nominated to chair the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations on April 17.

Klein has taken major issue with Lob being elected to chair the organization. “Trump of course hates HIAS and now Trump will want nothing to do with the Conference,” Klein told Jewish Insider last week, referencing how Lob once served as a chair for the Jewish American nonprofit that provides humanitarian aid to refugees. “We’ve lost all influence with the president of the United States because of her.”

Klein called Lob “unqualified” and “hostile” to Israel after her nomination was announced.

Lob’s nomination has subsequently been placed on hold, and she will now serve as chair-elect until 2021 rather than take on the position immediately. Klein, however, is now facing a backlash of his own. Dozens of young Jews have drafted a letter to Conference of Presidents leaders calling on Klein to be censured for “a pattern of racist and Islamophobic behavior.” The complaint, which is addressed to Chairman Arthur Stark, CEO William Daroff and Executive Vice Chairman Malcolm Hoenlein, directly addresses Klein’s attacks on Lob and her former refugee-advocacy nonprofit, as well as other inflammatory behavior.

The first complaint addresses how on April 23, “Mr. Klein engaged in a bizarre and concerning display of both disparagement of HIAS and anti-refugee bigotry,” documenting how the president claimed that HIAS is “not a Jewish Organization,” because it aids both Jewish and non-Jewish refugees, then implicitly chastised HIAS for “bring[ing] Muslim refugees to America.”

“The idea of opposing the work of resettling (heavily-vetted) refugees of any origin is odious, and stands directly in opposition to our American and Jewish values which obligate us to welcome the stranger,” the letter, which currently has more than 65 signatures. “Furthermore, to oppose the resettlement of refugees because they are Muslims speaks to deep anti-Muslim prejudice.”

“My involvement with HIAS developed from my personal history as the child of refugees from Nazi Germany and the grandchild of family members murdered in the Holocaust,” Lob wrote in an email after the attacks.“I firmly believe that a secure Israel is necessary for our community to thrive, and I will do everything in my power to assure that strength is maintained and enhanced.”

The panel discussion, “Welcoming the Stranger: A Jewish Call to Action for Refugees & Asylum Seekers,” was held at Beth Shir Shalom in Santa Monica, on Sept. 18.

Mark Hetfield, the current executive director of HIAS, also refuted Klein’s claim that the organization was anti-Israel, noting their policies bar the group partnering with organizations that promote the boycott, divestment and sanctions (BDS) movement.

The young Jews claim that Klein’s rhetoric against HIAS and Lob is part of “a long-standing pattern of both racism and the disparagement of other major American Jewish organizations.” They claim that Klein, on behalf of ZOA, has insinuated that the American Jewish Committee and Union for Reform Judaism, support “Nazi-like behavior.” They allege that the president claimed HIAS and the National Council of Jewish Women back sexual-assault enablers and that the Anti Defamation League is in bed with “radical Islamists/Israel haters.” They also note that Klein has tweeted slurs such as “filthy Arab.”

The letter also states, “Jewish leaders often fret about the relationship between the Jewish community on college campuses and other minority communities. We as young people work every day to strengthen these relationships and build cooperation; we cannot emphasize enough the degree to which our work is sabotaged when ‘the organized voice of the American Jewish Community’ publicly and repeatedly allows racism and anti-Muslim bigotry to be broadcast without consequence.”

The signatories are calling for the Conference of Presidents to publicly censure Klein and issue a statement condemning bigotry and racism.

In response, Klein tweeted,  “I Morton Klein and ZOA strongly support resettling refugees in America. My family, who were Holocaust survivors and I were refugees from DP [displaced persons] camps in Germany. We oppose unvetted refugees, especially those who hate Jews & Christians & Blacks. An ADL study showed 49% of Muslims are anti-Semitic.”

Jewish activist Hen Mazzig has come out in favor of the letter.

“I’m a strong pro-Israel advocate and I find ZOA attacks on other Zionist Jews troubling,” Mazzig told the Journal. “ZOA is due for a reckoning of what they care about more: Jewish people or President [Donald] Trump.”

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