Tomorrow, March 9, there will be an election in Philadelphia of all eligible delegates to the Zionist Organization of America’s annual convention. The delegates will be voting for the person they want to be president, the person they want to lead the oldest Zionist organization in America.
For the first time in more than twenty years, this is a contested election. There are two candidates. One, Mort Klein, has been the president of ZOA since 1993. The other, Steve Goldberg, had been Klein’s protegé and has been, with Klein’s support, a vice president of the ZOA national board for the past five years.
Goldberg filed his candidacy papers for the office of ZOA president five weeks ago, at the last possible moment under the ZOA’s Charter rules. Since that time he has attacked Klein relentlessly.
The issues Goldberg has raised include lack of transparency, disproportionate compensation to Klein and underwhelming fundraising and membership growth.
Some of Goldberg’s charges against Klein are totally without merit. Some are accurate but wildly exaggerated, either in terms of the severity of the problem or the nexus to Klein himself. These include the criticism about ZOA temporarily losing its tax-exempt status and the salary and benefits Klein receives. Others are accurate and need to be addressed.
There must be, as Goldberg suggests, a responsible transition plan put in place for ZOA as quickly as possible. The organization needs to become far more bottom-up, less top-down, and controls should be put in place so that people are adequately mentored, and those at the top have strict term limits. None of these constitute grounds to eject a devoted and highly successful, charismatic leader for an untried upstart whose personal behavior raises huge red flags.
Goldberg has leveled many harsh charges against Klein. After an initial obstinate refusal to engage, Klein and his re-election team lashed out at Goldberg, pointing out previously unknown, but troublesome patterns of behavior and action they say make him unworthy of leading the national organization.
The charges and counter-charges need to be addressed and evaluated. Goldberg’s campaign site is savethezoa.com, and Klein’s is ReelectzoapresidentMortKlein.com. About the vast majority of those charges, a careful reader should be able to come to her own conclusions; they won’t be addressed here.
But the bottom line question has to be, what will best preserve the ZOA: replacing Klein with Goldberg, or retaining Klein as president.
There is lots of ugliness to go around.
What is there positive to be said? About Steve Goldberg: he is clearly intelligent, he has degrees from fancy schools, he’s been involved in pro-Israel activity for many years, and he’s obviously energetic and creative. What’s more, Goldberg was the president of one of the ZOA district offices, and is a member of the ZOA national board. That shows experience and familiarity with the organization.
There’s much more of a track record for Klein. He took a bankrupt, dying organization, revived it, and turned it into a driving force in the public discourse on Israel and the Middle East conflict. He’s fearlessly captained the ZOA upstream when the rest of the major American Jewish organizations fell into line, one by one, in support of many of the worst self-inflicted disasters to befall Israel over the past twenty years.
Klein opposed Oslo when the popular position was to sign on and believe peace was on its way. Klein emphatically, vigorously fought against the removal of all 9,000 Jews, living and dead, from the Gaza Strip and northern Samaria in 2005, when even most of the so-called right wing supporters of Israel supported the “Disengagement.” And Klein has consistently fought against the idea of dividing Jerusalem and of creating a Palestinian state given that the acting leadership of the Palestinian Arabs – like their predecessors – support the annihilation of the Jewish State.