A consortium of Jewish organizations is attempting to punish the Zionist Organization of America (ZOA) to punish it for its zealous advocacy for Israel — and for being on the right side of the Trump administration.
The Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations, an umbrella group, has issued a rare “written warning” to ZOA for allegedly violating an internal policy against “insults, ad hominem attacks and name-calling … directed against the Conference of Presidents, its member organizations or their leaders.”
ZOA’s real crime, however, appears to be standing up on matters of principle against left-wing Jewish organizations whose policies it believes — not unreasonably — endanger Israel and Jewish communities in the United States.
The five-page Conference report was leaked to Jewish Week — in apparent violation of another internal policy. It says that while some of the five members of the investigative committee “were sympathetic to, or in agreement with, the content and substance of some of the ZOA’s critical statements,” the “manner and tone” of ZOA’s criticism was problematic.
The report cited a “not exhaustive” list of statements by ZOA that allegedly violated “civility” standards. All of the statements were directed primarily against two left-wing organizations: the Anti-Defamation League (ADL) and HIAS, once known as the Hebrew Immigrant Aid Society.
The ADL’s leftward shift has become increasingly pronounced in recent years under the leadership of former Obama administration official Jonathan Greenblatt. Recently, the organization hyped dubious claims of a rise in antisemitism since the election of President Donald Trump — even though it relied heavily on a spate of bomb threats against Jewish community centers that turned out to be hoaxes largely perpetrated, separately, by a left-wing former journalist and a Jewish teenager in Israel. In 2017, it falsely claimed Breitbart News was the “premier” site for the “alt-right.” In contrast, it has offered weak or reluctant criticism of left-wing antisemitism. It has also waded into policy debates that have little to do with its core mission, criticizing Trump’s immigration policy last year.
Curiously, none of the ZOA statements cited by the committee included anything like “insults, ad hominem attacks and name-calling.” Instead, they involved ordinary, if strident, criticism of the left-wing groups’ political stances.
For example, the conference cited a passage in a ZOA press statement that criticized the ADL for its criticism of laws targeting the anti-Israel boycott, divestment, sanctions (BDS) movement: “ZOA hopes and prays that ADL will reverse its misguided and harmful stance that gives aid and comfort to the anti-Semitic, bigoted and hateful BDS campaign.” There are no “insults, ad hominem attacks and name-calling” in that statement .
The conference also cited a ZOA press statement that criticized the HIAS, among other groups, for supporting the resettlement of Syrian “refugees” in the U.S. in 2015 — rather than in the Middle East, and in the face of evidence that many of the “refugees” were economic migrants, and that terrorists were likely infiltrating the refugee flow.
The objectionable phrase listed by the committee is as follows:
Appallingly, HIAS (Hebrew Immigrant Aid Society) and Jewish groups such as ADL, AJC, Reform movement, OU and others have joined forces with Muslim anti-Israel organizations and groups that promote anti-Israel boycotts to oppose additional restrictions and security measures on Syrian refugees. Despite the fact that U.S. government officials admit that no Syrian databases exist with which to vet Syrian refugees, this unholy consortium of Jewish and anti-Israel groups falsely claims that Syrian refugees should be admitted.
The words “appallingly” and “unholy” could have been dropped without losing the meaning of the paragraph, but they hardly rise to the level of “insults, ad hominem attacks and name-calling.” (Moreover, the version of the quote that the conference cited had later been corrected by ZOA, apparently, to remove the reference to OU, the Orthodox Union, a religious body.)
The ZOA responded to the committee’s report by noting that it had not been given an opportunity, as required, to argue against being sanctioned. It also complained that the committee’s report had been leaked, in an apparent effort to cause public relations damage to the ZOA.
The ZOA added that its statements were “legitimate and accurate” and never involved “name-calling.” Instead, it was being judged according to entirely subjective standards of “tone and manner” that are subject to political manipulation.
Finally, ZOA pointed out that the committee ignored the way left-wing groups like ADL had treated it, listing several examples of public insults and other attacks.
The ZOA response concluded: “It is ADL’s and HIAS’s dangerous positions and actions that are damaging Jewish unity – not ZOA’s critiques of them.”
Reading the committee report and ZOA’s response, it is impossible to avoid the conclusion that ZOA is being targeted for being effective.
The organization, which boasts that it is “the oldest pro-Israel organization in the United States,” is among the smaller pro-Israel groups. Nevertheless, it punches above its weight.
That has especially been the case in recent years, as most mainstream Jewish organizations drifted leftward into the orbit of the Obama administration and the Democratic Party. The ZOA was left defending what had once been the Jewish consensus about issues relating to Israel and inter-communal relations in the United States.
Few Jewish leaders protested when President Barack Obama “explicitly and deliberately excluded” ZOA and its president, Morton Klein, from White House meetings with Jewish groups.
Meanwhile, even as they courted Obama, their influence waned. The vaunted American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC), for example, tried and failed to stop the Iran nuclear deal.
The surprising victory of President Donald Trump in 2016 left many left-wing Jewish groups feeling left out in the cold — while the ZOA suddenly enjoyed new prominence.
Many of ZOA’s positions on Israel and national security agree with those of the Trump administration — though ZOA is not shy to criticize the president when it disagrees with him.
Crucially, Trump has made his support for Israel concrete, moving the U.S. embassy to Jerusalem (a promise his predecessors made but failed to keep). He also takes the threat of radical Islamic terrorism seriously.
Those policies agree with the views of the ZOA — and most are opposed by the Democratic Party, to which many left-wing Jewish organizations have unwisely hitched themselves.
The attack on the ZOA reads as nothing more than an attempt to punish the ZOA for its success — and for supporting President Trump.
Joel B. Pollak is Senior Editor-at-Large at Breitbart News. He is a winner of the 2018 Robert Novak Journalism Alumni Fellowship. He is also the co-author of How Trump Won: The Inside Story of a Revolution, which is available from Regnery. Follow him on Twitter at @joelpollak.