ZOA President expresses concerns over Israel’s security

Morton A. Klein

BY ROBERT A. COHN, Editor-in-Chief Emeritus

Morton A. Klein, national president of the Zionist Organization of America (ZOA) is concerned that it “may already be too late” for effective military action to prevent Iran from developing nuclear weapons, and believes the election of Mohamed Morsi, the Muslim Brotherhood candidate as the new civilian president of Egypt is a  “disaster,” and could spell doom for the Egypt-Israel treaty.

Klein has served for the past 19 years as president of the ZOA, which was founded in 1897 and is the oldest pro-Israel group in the U.S. ZOA currently has about 30,000 members nationally.

He is a member of the National Council of the American Israel Public Affairs Committee, and has been an outspoken advocate for the State of Israel and its security needs. He is a child of Holocaust survivors, having been born in a displaced persons camp in Gunzerg, Germany. 

Klein has family ties to St. Louis. His mother, Sarah Griner Klein, who will soon celebrate her 90th birthday, is a member of Nusach Hari B’nai Zion Congregation, where Klein will speak on Saturday, July 7. 

Klein’s brother, Dr. Sam Klein is a prominent physician in St. Louis and a widely recognized expert on nutrition and obesity.

In anticipation of his talk at NHBZ Congregation, the St. Louis Jewish Light caught up with Klein at his New York City office for a telephone interview on recent developments in Middle East and their potential effect on Israel and its security. 

Tell us about the changes in ZOA membership since you started as president. Have you seen growth, decline or has it remained steady? 

When I became ZOA national president 19 years ago, we had about 2,000 members nationally. We have had dramatic growth and have put our fiscal house in order as well. When I took over, we had practically no members, no money, no nothing. Things are much more stable now. We had millions in debt, and if I had known that, I wouldn’t have taken this position. 

Why do you feel that way?

Well, it was a nightmare. For years, all I did was to beg people for money.

Was the ZOA among the Jewish organizations to suffer as a result of the Bernie Madoff scandal?

No. I did meet with Madoff and he showed me hundreds of pages of material. I did not have the background in this kind of finances, and I didn’t know what the hell he was talking about. I understood nothing. It just didn’t make sense to me. I said, ‘Mr. Madoff, I don’t understand any of this.’ He told me, ‘Mr. Klein, are you telling me you’re not smart enough to understand our (firm’s) fiscal techniques, and therefore do not want to do business with us?’ I said, ‘Mr. Madoff, I couldn’t have said it better myself.’

How many members are in the local chapter of the ZOA?

Our St. Louis chapter is relatively small maybe just over 100 people sent us dues to join. We do hope to increase that number.

Let’s go on to discuss some items of news coming out of the Middle East.

You mean there are things going on in the Middle East? (laughing).

We had the election of the Muslim Brotherhood candidate Mohamed Morsi in Egypt. Despite concerns about the Muslim Brotherhood, Morsi was the first democratically elected president in Egyptian history. Is the election itself a sign that the ‘Arab Spring’ is working positively at least on some levels?

When you have (in Egypt), a culture that permits hatred and violence, against Jews and Israel, and that permits hatred against America and the West, the elections simply bring to power horrific people. They are not interested in any real peace with the Western world or with Israel. That is the situation in Gaza, under control of Hamas, which is an offshoot of the Muslim Brotherhood. 

Were the West and the U.S. wrong to have considered Egypt, even under Mubarak as moderate?

Egypt has been and is an immoderate society. A respected polling organization found that 92 percent of respondents think that the Palestinians cannot be taken care of as long as Israel exists. Some 75 percent support (Islamic) Sharia law as the basis of the constitution of Egypt. This is a very immoderate country, not only because of the imams’ interpretation of the Koran, but also because of the state-controlled Egyptian media.

Specifically how has Egyptian media promoted an immoderate Egyptian culture?

Even under the so-called ‘moderate’ President Hosni Mubarak, his state-controlled media showed a 41-part TV series based on the notorious forgery, ‘The Protocols of the Elders of Zion.’ When there were shark attacks at some beaches in Egypt, its government media claimed that Israel was behind them.

So can things be even worse under Morsi, even with limited powers?

The Muslim Brotherhood is and always has been extremely radical and anti-Semitic. It is well documented that during World War II it supported the Nazis. Morsi himself has been a member of the Muslim Brotherhood’s official “Anti-Zionist Committee.” He recently gave a very radical speech in which he said the Koran is Egypt’s constitution and ‘Jihad is our path.’ In short, Morsi’s election is nothing short of a disaster.

Has not the Egyptian army played a moderating role?

Actually, the leaders of Egypt’s military, even since Mubarak was ousted and Morsi was elected, have said publicly and frequently, ‘Egypt’s number one enemy is Israel.’

So the U.S. was wrong even to have supported Mubarak and to continue support for Egypt since then?

I do fault the U.S. and even those in Israel itself who said they were happy to settle for a so-called ‘cold peace.’  And during the election campaign, the two top leaders of the Muslim Brotherhood said in English that they will ‘re-consider’ the treaty with Israel. It has become honest that the new leaders have no intention of honoring the treaty, which could be abrogated.

Will the 94-seat ‘super-majority’ coalition of Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu empower his government to proceed with bold moves towards reviving the peace process — or to take military action against Iran to stop it from developing nuclear weapons?

Even before he had the ‘super-majority,’ Netanyahu said he would accept a Palestinian state and approved a nine-month freeze on settlement construction.  He continued that freeze despite the fact that the Palestinians refused to even come to the negotiating table. His larger majority will have no impact on the process. Netanyahu has wanted and still wants a deal with the Palestinians.


So why can’t progress be made now?

The Palestinians still have such an enormous hatred of Israel and Jews, that its leaders will not permit a peaceful solution.  Abu Allah, the head of Al Quds University has said repeatedly, ‘no Jews would be allowed in Palestine if we have a state.’ It is vicious Jew-hatred that prevents peace, and the so-called super-majority will not and cannot change that.


So you do not believe the Palestinians would accept an independent state alongside Israel the so-called two-state solution?

The Palestinians could have had a state as long ago as 1937 when the Peel Commission met with Zionist and Arab negotiators. The Arab leadership absolutely refused to accept a state alongside a Jewish State at that time. The Palestinians could have had an independent state in 1947 (under the U.N. Partition Plan), and turned down a state. And the Palestinians have continued to turn down an independent state through the aftermath of the 1967 Six-Day War, Camp David and every step of the way down to the present.


Let us turn to the situation in Iran. Do you agree with those who say that a potential unilateral military strike by Israel is increasingly possible?

My feeling is that it may be too late for military action to be really effective to stop Iran at this point. Israel really should have retaliated against Iran at least a year ago. Top Israeli military people I have spoken to have told me they still think Israel can take effective action. The U.S. and the West have not taken really effective action and even the new E.U. sanctions taking place in July are not likely to change Iran’s defiant stance.


How do you feel about the ongoing carnage in Syria? If President Bashar Assad is forced to leave office, will that be good or bad for stability and Israel’s security?

I think it is very unlikely that the Assad regime will survive another year. If he is overthrown, it is possible that those who take over the government could even be worse. The Muslim Brotherhood is very powerful in Syria. When (Mohamed) Morsi won the Egyptian presidency, there were Muslim Brotherhood rallies not only in Cairo, but also in Gaza by Hamas, in Lebanon by Hezbollah, the latter of which is supported by Syria and Iran. The Muslim Brotherhood and its branches promote hatred of Jews and Christians in their schools, media and political speeches. In short, the entire region could be facing a disaster.