Activist Morton A. Klein, the longtime president of the Zionist Organization of America, does not mince words. And when he offers his strong opinions about Israel and anti-Semitism, he’s ready with facts and figures to buttress his claims.
For example, in discussing BDS — the movement, flourishing on college campuses, that seeks to discourage people and institutions from doing business with Israel — he not only accuses them of “Orwellian lies” but goes on to counter each one.
The lies, he said, center on four premises: that Jerusalem is holy to Muslims, that the Palestinians seek statehood, that Israel is an occupying power, and that the settlements, which he calls “Jewish communities,” have obstructed the path to peace.
First, Jerusalem. “Jerusalem is not mentioned in the Koran,” Mr. Klein said, although it appears more than 700 times in the Torah. “And during the 19 years when Jordan controlled Jerusalem, no leader except King Hussein ever visited. They allowed it to become a slum.”
Second, that the Palestinians are desperate for a state and Israel won’t give it to them. Mr. Klein said they were offered a state four times in 19 years, and they turned it down without making a counteroffer. “The issue is not statehood,” he said. “This is a religious war. They turned it down because they wouldn’t accept Israel as a Jewish state or agree to make no further claims.”
Third, occupation. “That’s a gigantic falsehood,” he said; Israel had given up Gaza, where most Palestinian Arabs live under Mahmoud Abbas, “with their own parliament, police, and schools. They run their own lives except for security — Israel is there looking for terrorist cells.
“Occupation means someone stole someone’s sovereign land,” he continued. “Jordan controlled it illegally, and the Arabs did not accept UN Resolution 181,” calling for partition into two states. “It’s not their land. They refused.”
Fourth, settlements — that Israel is building all over the West Bank, making it impossible for the Palestinians to build a state. “Jewish communities take up less than 2 percent of all Judea and Samaria,” he said. “Ninety-eight percent has no Jews living there. Since Oslo began, not a single Jewish community has been built. They’ve only built within existing boundaries, and Bibi” — that’s Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu — “doesn’t allow any building.”
Mr. Klein then cited a fifth accusation, which, he said, he almost dismissed because it is so blatantly false. “That’s the lie of apartheid,” he said, “and people believe it. But 20 percent of Israel’s population is Arab, they’re on every federal court, the Supreme Court, there are 12 Arab members of the Knesset,” and hospitals are filled with both Arab doctors and patients. Clearly, he said, the idea that Israel practices apartheid is a lie.
The result of BDS activity, while harmful in other ways, “has no economic impact on Israel, which is among the strongest economies in the world, and growing,” he said. “Israeli high-tech is being purchased by businessmen all over the world.” It has, however, hurt some businesses in the West Bank.
Further, “it’s had an impact on demonizing Israel, especially on college campuses.” Increasing numbers of young people, including Jews, “are convinced that Israel is an oppressive, racist regime.” Mr. Klein noted that ZOA has a presence on 100 campuses and has trained students at colleges all over the country to rebut these arguments.
BDS is only one of the topics Mr. Klein will discuss on Sept. 8 at Congregation B’nai Yeshurun in Teaneck as part of a program sponsored by ZOA’s New York metro region. (See box.)
Asked about the recent incident involving U.S. Congresswomen Rashida Tlaib (D-Mich.) and Ilhan Omar (D-Minn) — at President Trump’s request, Israel did not permit them to visit — Mr. Klein said “they are the two most overt anti-Semites in Congress in memory. Some people have enormous enmity, but they’re much more careful. These people are obsessed with attacking the Jewish state and the Jewish people. Why not obsess over what’s going on in Somalia?” (That’s where Ms. Omar was born.) “The Arab Islamic war against Israel is not about land — it’s religious.” Mr. Klein said Ms. Tlaib and Ms. Omar “are dangerous because they are inspiring anti-Semitism” and making it acceptable to express these feelings publicly. “They hate Jews and they hate Israel.”
In fact, he said, there is considerably more to the story than is generally known. “A change occurred when they found [the two women’s] itinerary,” labeling the trip “a delegation to Palestine.” Not only was the trip funded by Miftah, known for its virulent anti-Israel rhetoric and sanctioning of terrorism, Mr. Klein said, but the two members of Congress refused to meet with any Jewish Israelis or visit Israeli sites such as Yad Vashem. Their intention, he said, “was to go and have many press conferences blasting Israel. It would have been a nightmare. [Netanyahu’s] decision was the lesser of two difficult choices.”
“It’s shocking that AIPAC criticized Israel for that,” he said. “They always say they support the decisions of the democratically elected government of Israel. We’re the only major nonpartisan Jewish group that supported the decision.” He noted also that when Congresswoman Tlaib asked for, and was granted, permission to visit her grandmother, “she no doubt assumed they would say no.” When Israel said the visit must be free of politics, she turned down the offer.
“They shouldn’t have the ability to have press conferences,” Mr. Klein said. “They want to cut all aid to Israel, and they’re saying don’t visit, that it’s not a democracy or an ally of the U.S.”
Mr. Klein said he does not believe that recent controversial statements by President Trump are either anti-Semitic or responsible for the growth of anti-Semitism. If that were true, he said, he would be the first to turn against him. “My parents were Holocaust survivors,” he said. “I lost my family in the Holocaust. I couldn’t be more sensitive” about this subject. “I’m nonpartisan and pro-Jewish, pro-Israel. I’ll criticize anyone on either side.
“I testified before Congress on Trump and Charlottesville. It was such an outrageous falsehood. When he said there were fine people on both sides, he meant those who supported taking down the Confederate statue and those who opposed it. He condemned the Klan and neo-Nazis in the same speech.”
As for the president’s recent statement suggesting that any Jew who votes for a Democrat is being disloyal, he said that Trump meant disloyal to Israel, not to America. “He went too far,” Mr. Klein said, “although as opposed to criticizing Jews, he’s demanding that Jews be more loyal to Israel. He did not accuse Jews of being disloyal to America,” a lingering canard long used against the Jewish people.
Mr. Klein said he is disturbed but not surprised by the resurgence of anti-Semitism, “which has existed for thousands of years. There’s an ebb and flow. Whenever it slows down, it comes back.” Being ostensibly anti-Israel, he said, “enables more people who had negative hidden feelings about Jews let it come out. If someone says Italy shouldn’t exist, they hate Italians.”
When he’s not ferreting out anti-Semitism or speaking up for Israel on Capitol Hill, the ZOA leader — who has held his position for 25 years –is an economist and statistician who worked in Washington under three administrations and had the privilege of working closely with Linus Pauling as well. He and his wife, Rita, have one daughter, Rachael, and four grandchildren.
Who: Morton A. Mr. Klein, president of ZOA
What: Will give a presentation, “Israel, Anti-Semitism, Omar & Tlaib, and the Orwellian Lies of BDS” at a program sponsored by the ZOA’s NY Metro Region
When: Sunday, September 8, at 8:15 p.m. The donor society/VIP reception will start at 7:30.
Where: Congregation Bnai Yeshurun, 641 W. Englewood Ave., Teaneck