ZOA in retreat and on attack


Say what you want about Zionist Organization of America President Mort Klein, but he sure knows how to apologize. After criticizing actress Natalie Portman’s announcement that she would not accept the Genesis Prize in Israel, he said that her decision “gives credibility and legitimacy to the ludicrous, false, nonsensical belief that beautiful women aren’t too bright.” Shortly thereafter, he did a quick retreat.

“Although not intended, I now realize that my comment could be construed as offensive, and I sincerely apologize for it,” he wrote in contrition. “I do not retract my criticism of Ms. Portman’s decision not to go to Israel and accept the award, but I should have focused solely on her decision, without any reference to gender or appearance.”

But the combative Klein continues to make news precisely because of his confrontational propensities. For example, ZOA is currently waging battle against three liberal organizations in the Conference of Presidents of Major Jewish American Organizations umbrella organization. The Anti-Defamation League, the National Council of Jewish Women and the refugee aid group HIAS have lodged separate formal complaints against the ZOA under the Presidents Conference’s non-disparagement policy that is supposed to encourage communal unity. In turn, the ZOA has lodged complaints against the ADL, as well as Ameinu, a liberal pro-Israel group.

In recent years, the ZOA has released public statements criticizing the three groups for taking liberal positions. The ZOA supports Israeli settlements, opposes Palestinian statehood and has supported policies of President Donald Trump with which each of the groups have taken issue.

A November news release from the ZOA condemned HIAS and the National Council of Jewish Women for signing “a shocking letter signed by extremist ‘Jewish leaders’” in defense of Palestinian-American liberal activist Linda Sarsour. The following month, another ZOA statement on the same topic called those groups “far left.”

It has long been the communal policy for Jewish groups, regardless of their political positions, to refrain from attacking each other by questioning their legitimacy. The Conference of Presidents is adjudicating the ZOA complaints and challenges in secret, and needs to do something to tamp down the misbehavior.

This finger pointing, vitriol and other like attacks within our communal organizations needs to stop. Jewish unity is a worthwhile objective. Our community is strengthened when it embraces and engages diversity of opinion, rather than insisting on ideological purity. When Jews are calling each other the enemy, there is something truly wrong.

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