How Islamophobia And Trump Are Dividing Major Jewish Organizations

May 20, 2020

The Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations' incoming Chair-elect Dianne Lob faced attack from of Morton Klein of the Zionist Organization of America because of her work with Muslim refugees.

The Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations' incoming Chair-elect Dianne Lob faced attack from of Morton Klein of the Zionist Organization of America because of her work with Muslim refugees.


WASHINGTON, DC, UNITED STATES - 2018/12/12: 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. Michael Brochstein/SOPA Images/LightRocket via Getty Images

Story Transcript

This is a rush transcript and may contain errors. It will be updated.

Marc Steiner: Welcome to Real News. I’m Marc Steiner. Great to have you all with us once again. Antisemitism, racism, Islamophobia have bubbled up and becoming daily headlines in United States. Since the rise of the Trump Administration, especially. The right wing antisemites say that a Jewish lobby controls the White House and progressives don’t like to use that term because they think it is a term that is antisemitic and racist to the Jewish lobby, but also because it smacks of antisemitism.

The reality is there are pro-Israeli lobbying groups like AIPAC, and a number of evangelical Christian groups like Christians United for Israel that advocate to have this country support the right wing Israeli administration. The Conference of Presidents of Major Jewish Organizations, known as CoP, is an organization which claims to speak on behalf of Jewish communities inside the United States and is supposed to be a watchdog against antisemitism.

Since the occupation of ’67 and especially during the era of Trump, CoP has become more fanatical about supporting the right wing in Israel with many, if not most American Jews questioning that. Many centrist, peace, and left wing Jewish organizations are not allowed to become members of CoP. So, in a new article published in +972 magazine, McMoRan analyzed the recent elections for the president of that group, CoP, and where Dianne Lob won by a wide margin, but she came under a vicious attack from Morton Klein, who’s president of the Zionist Organization of America. Klein accused Lob of helping quote un quote “non Jews” because of her work with HIAS, which is a refugee aid organization that was targeted in the Pittsburgh shooting in 2018 at the synagogue, in which 11 people were murdered.

Klein, I’m not saying he’s like this person, but like the murderer fiercely opposes giving shelter to refugees coming into the United States. HIAS, which used to settle Jewish refugees now works in large part with helping many Muslim refugees settle here in United States and across the globe. Morton Klein makes his racist views crystal clear time and time again. Last September, he spoke at the Center for Security Policy. Let’s hear some of what he said. Please brace yourselves, these words are not easy to hear. And they clearly, and certainly, are not the views are represented by Real News Network or me.

Morton Klein: It is not a coincidence that the two leading antisemites in Congress are both Muslims. It pains me to say this. It’s not a coincidence. ADL polls show that 34% of American Muslims are antisemitic. The Koran, the standard Koran, preaches that Jews are under the curse of Allah, that Allah has transformed disobedient Jews into apes and pigs and such at the west point of Islam in Cairo, Al-Azhar University, they preach hatred against Jews. They even give sermons preaching the Hadith lines about seeking out the Jew, whether it be behind a tree or a rock and kill him. Imams have been videotaped all over America, all over America, promoting this type of hatred and asking that every Jew be annihilated one-by-one. It’s shocking that I’m saying this, but this is the painful truth.

Marc Steiner: We are joined by Mik Moore, writer, producer and former Jewish communal professional, who lives in New York City. He’s founder of Moore and Associates, a creative agency specializing in comedy and cultural strategy and wrote this article in +972, How a U.S. Jewish Leadership Race Became Mired in Islamophobia. And Mik, welcome, good to have you with us.

Mik Moore: It’s great to be here.

Marc Steiner: So, a lot of people watching this broadcast probably are really not familiar with the group. So let’s just start there just really quick, a quick primer. Why are we focusing on this group and why’s it important to do so?

Mik Moore: Yeah. So the Conference of Presidents of Major Jewish Organizations, which is a long name that doesn’t come off the tongue easily was founded in the mid-fifties. Basically what had been happening is anyone who knows the Jewish world is familiar with the myriad of organizations that represent different Jewish interests. And one of the challenges that existed in the fifties was lots of Jewish organizations were trying to get their views presented to the Eisenhower Administration. And eventually the Eisenhower Administration said, we need to hear from a single voice that reflects the broad consensus of the community, so please create an organization and we will work with that one organization. So, the Conference of Presidents of Major Jewish Organizations, as the name implies, is an umbrella organization.

And today I think it has over 50, around 50, organizations that are members. And in theory, what the Conference of Presidents of Major Jewish Organizations is supposed to do is to find a genuine consensus of where the American Jewish community is on a range of issues although primarily issues of sort of Jewish security, which tend to focus on issues of antisemitism and issues around Israel, although not exclusively. And one of the challenges, I think, that many of us have had with the Conference of Presidents is that it does not reflect where most Jews are. In fact, it doesn’t even reflect where most Jewish organizations are. What it presents as a consensus view is really the view of a fairly small minority of the American Jewish community.

Marc Steiner: I’m picking up on that idea. I mean, there are estimates of five to eight million Jews in this country, and many of them kind of tend to be liberal to progressive, and they don’t support things like racial profiling and segregation, torture, obviously. But when you look at the leadership of the Conference of Presidents of Major Jewish Organizations, you see people who are really pro-Israel, who will actually support racial profiling, segregation, torture, anything, when it comes defending Israel, many of them pro-Trump.

And so this disconnect is very real between what maybe the majority of Israeli Jews think, even though I wouldn’t say the majority of American Jews, I mean to say, aren’t necessarily for ending all settlements in the West Bank, but that number is growing. But there’s a disconnect, in a larger sense, between that leadership and where most Jews are in this country. And you look at the polls about who’s supporting Trump and who’s not, I mean, in every minority group in this country, Jews have the largest percentage of people who say no to Trump. So why does CoP have this kind of outsized control over the dialogue? And what’s that struggle about inside, and how’s that taking place?

Mik Moore: Well, it’s complicated. I mean, I think one of the reasons it has influence is because administrations, since Eisenhower, have treated it as the place to go for those sort of consensus opinions of the community. And so that has, I think helped give it a certain stamp of authority. And the second reason, which is related to that, is the outgoing head of the organization who had been there for over three decades, Malcolm Hoenlein, had a significant amount of influence based on his personal relationships, both here in the United States and abroad. And so it’s a combination of, I think the way in which American administrations have treated the umbrella group, and the way in which the head of the group has sort of taken advantage of his relationships with key leaders to wield a lot of influence. And this is an individual who is very much pro-settlement and has, I think steered the organizations to be aligned with his views.

But the dynamic that’s complicated is there are in fact a good number of organizations that are members of the Conference of Presidents that are more of the mainstream liberal Jewish organizations. So the Reform Movement, the National Council of Jewish Women, right? These are organizations whose membership primarily reflect those sort of Democratic Party demographics of most American Jews and have more liberal positions than what often comes out from the Conference itself and definitely diverge from where their are sort-of key leadership has been. So, I think there’s been a conversation long standing from more liberal organizations about whether or not it’s still worthwhile to play a role inside an organization that has tended to put forth a more conservative viewpoint, particularly on Israeli policy issues, and to try to influence it from the inside, or whether to sort of withdraw from that space. And this fight that just happened over the current board president, I think was one manifestation of that internal battle that’s happening over the direction that this umbrella group goes and whether it’s worth continuing to engage with it.

Marc Steiner: Just very quickly, when you’re looking at the significant stuff, the present struggle internally, where you had Dianne Lob, who’s part of HIAS, which is this Jewish refugee organization founded in the late 1800s that helped settle Jews from around the world when they were refugees, no matter where that was, kind of has shifted gears clearly to working with many other kinds of refugees, including lots of Muslim refugees. So she was attacked for that by Klein and other ZOA, Zionist Organization of America people, in this vote, even though she won the vote overwhelmingly. So, and she’s not going to come out and say dismantle all of the settlements and get rid of them. I mean, some of us might and the Jewish Voices for Peace might and others, J Street, so why is this so significant? What’s happening inside there?

Mik Moore: Yeah, so what’s interesting is the Zionist Organization of America is one of the member organizations of the Conference of Presidents. And it’s run by Mort Klein. And where Klein has been well known for many years because of his role running this organization, which has always been a tiny organization, at least in recent history, it’s been around for a long time, but he has leveraged his title as president and his position as a member of the Conference of Presidents to gain sort of more prominence and influence than he might have otherwise. So his views are, most of his views I would say are pretty fringe in terms of what a typical American Jew believes. He’s extremely pro settlement. He is extremely anti-Muslim. He’s embraced the Trump administration wholeheartedly. He did a dinner that honored Steve Bannon, who’s reviled by the overwhelming majority of American Jews.

So you have a person like that utilizing his role inside this organization to advance an agenda that is explicitly Islamophobic and far to the right of American Jews. So if you look at the size and influence of an organization like HIAS, which was the group that Dianne Lob was the former board chair of, and you look at Zionist Organization of America, HIAS is way more aligned with the viewpoints of American Jews. And I think in part, because of this, what Mort Klein did in his campaign to object to her ascension to this chair position was to essentially say, not essentially, to explicitly say that HIAS is not a Jewish organization. And this attack is sort of, there’s two elements in this, one is there’s an attempt by the most conservative elements within the organized Jewish world to define Jewish organizations whose mission is driven by Jewish values, but doesn’t necessarily involve direct service worker support for Jews to define those groups as being not Jewish or outside of the Jewish community.

So HIAS describes itself or its journey as being an organization that went from helping refugees because they were Jewish to helping refugees because we are Jewish, essentially an assertion of Jewish values around support for refugees. So that’s one big fight that’s going on that’s playing out within this battle. The second has to do with American Jewish attitudes towards Muslims. And there is a significant minority within the Jewish community that explicitly says, as Klein does here, and others that support for Muslim refugees is support for antisemitism.

And one of the things I’ve tried to underscore in this article is that while that particular perspective is not a mainstream point of view. And in fact, I would say most of the members of even the Conference of Presidents don’t embrace it, there’s also a tolerance for that kind of viewpoint. So somebody like Mort Klein or others can say something along those lines in a Jewish space and it’s not seen as outrageous, it’s become normalized. And so one of the things I tried to underscore was why that’s so problematic and why it’s really important every time this happens to call it out for what it is.

Marc Steiner: So one of the things you said in the article that I want to kind of as we close out, kind of look at this and also think about the nature of the kind of supremacist views in the White House and how this fits into all of this. You had this great line saying that this debate taking place, I think the quote was, the long standing universalists versus particularist debate. The Tikkun olam Jews versus [inaudible 00:14:26] Israel Jews. And you say, but that’s too simplistic. But A, let’s define those terms for everybody who doesn’t speak Hebrew and understand what that means and talk about what that is in the context of the ongoing struggle that seems to be growing in this country inside the Jewish community. Well, let’s stop there and then I’ll have a final thought after that.

Mik Moore: Great. So without getting into all the details, sort of Tikkun Olam means repair the world. And [inaudible 00:14:52] means sort of love of Israel or love the Jewish people. And there has been a debate, those sort of more or less correspond to Jews who believe that both Jewish law and Jewish tradition is inclusive of other communities, which is to say that things that we’re commanded to do or ways to behave are not addressed specifically or exclusively to how we treat other Jews, but how we are supposed to treat other people. And so organizations that take those Jewish values and then implement them in the world, see themselves as Jewish, but are seen by some Jews as not being Jewish. The Jews who are more particularist or who believe that the focus of Jewish organizations should exclusively be focused on serving the needs of other Jews.

And that can be serving the needs of other Jews in a direct service way, so providing food, or like HIAS used to do, providing refugee support or immigration support for Jews. But it can also translate into a very narrow understanding of how Jewish values should be applied when it comes to Israel. And that’s where you get the sense that in any debate, if there is a Jewish side and a non-Jewish side, that Jews should always side with the other Jews, which translates into the Israeli government, even when those policies, like in the case of say the occupation and the settlements are clearly in violation of what most Jews see to be Jewish values. And this is a longstanding debate, and it’s been used as a way for conservatives to marginalize quote Tikkun olam Jews as inauthentically Jewish, and therefore unable to speak on behalf of the Jewish community. And therefore, in this case, HIAS, as one of those organizations, should not be, according to people like Mort Klein, in the Conference of Presidents, which claims to be the voice of American Jews.

Marc Steiner: So in closing it out here in a larger sense, when you look at Trump’s policies towards Israel and people like Klein and the role they play in the world of Trump and that minority, but significant in terms of wealth and power and influence that certain people have inside the Trump administration and you look at their approval of the annexation of land on the West Bank, the Palestinian land, and moving the embassy to Jerusalem, and this kind of weird convergence of certain orthodox and especially some Zionist groups and the evangelical Christian right coming together all in this kind of perfect political storm for them. I mean, this, to me, everything that you wrote about and what happened in the council or organizations seems to all fit into this. This is part and parcel. You can’t separate that. I mean, this is the politics that is fueling that, right?

Mik Moore: Yeah. I think that’s a hundred percent right. I mean, what Jewish leaders like Mort Klein would like is for the only organizations or umbrella organizations that are seen as representative of Jews, be ones that reflect his narrow viewpoint about Israel, the settlements, Muslims, et cetera. And so, as I said earlier, there’s this debate around authenticity. So they want to define out of the Jewish community those Jews whose politics differ from theirs and they’re using this as a wedge.

And what we’re seeing and have been seeing in Israel for decades is essentially a choice point between Israel as a democratic state for all citizens and Israel as a Jewish state that favors its Jewish citizens. And annexation more potentially than any other action so far really has been calling that question. And the truth is most American Jews, while supportive of Israel, support Israel as a democratic state. And if it becomes through annexation an explicitly undemocratic state, there’s I think an open question about whether or not they will continue to be supportive the way that they have been.

And that’s the moment we’re in now. And I would just say, Klein would like to just define all of those Jews that are uncomfortable with annexation out of the community and really replace them with evangelical Christian who are better Jews than the Jews. I’ve mentioned that also in the article. But that Jewishness has become defined no longer by whether your mother was Jewish or whether you affiliate with a Jewish institution, or whether you self identify as Jewish, but on how you view both Israel and Israeli policy towards the settlement and whether or not you hate Muslims. And that’s kind of where we’re at. We’re at this choice point moment.

Marc Steiner: Two seconds here. Do you think that Lob becoming President will change anything?

Mik Moore: No. I don’t think she’s going to have a position of power to be able to do anything, but I do think there are some really good people who are involved with the Conference of Presidents. And my hope is that they will take advantage of the fact that their viewpoints are more reflective of American Jews than Klein’s and they use that to shape the future of if not the Conference of Presidents, at least the voice of American Jewish organizations.

Marc Steiner: Well Mik Moore, it’s been a pleasure to talk with you. And I appreciate the piece you wrote for +972, look forward to talking to you more as we delve into this in deeper ways. Thanks for [inaudible 00:20:56] for your work and appreciate that and we’ll be talking to you soon.

Mik Moore: Great. Thanks for having me on.

Marc Steiner: Thank you. And I’m Mark Steiner here with the Real News Network. Thank you all for joining us. Please let us know what you think, hit your ideas and thoughts and what you’ve been watching, and please still stay home. Be safe, stay healthy. I’m Marc Steiner here with the Real News Network. Take care.