Vote was first real test for longtime president; rival cited ideological and fiduciary issues.
Morton Klein was overwhelmingly re-elected president of the Zionist Organization of America during the organization’s convention in Philadelphia Sunday.
Klein, 66, said the landslide win was a “clear repudiation of the false and outlandish claims of my opponent, and it was a mandate for the work I do at the ZOA.”
Steven Goldberg, a Los Angeles attorney who had served as the ZOA’s vice chairman, had mounted an aggressive challenge to Klein’s reelection. It was the first challenge to Klein since his election 20 years ago.
Along with Klein, a new slate of officers was elected; Goldberg was not among them.
“I’m relieved it’s over,” said Goldberg, who had been a board member since 2008. “The vote was 115 to 9, and I have a feeling the other eight who voted for me checked the wrong box.”
Goldberg wanted to unseat Klein because he believes Klein may one day be willing to give parts of the West Bank to the Palestinians for their own homeland.
“It’s not a territorial issue, it’s a religious issue,” Goldberg told The Jewish Week prior to the vote. “It’s antithetical to the fundamental Islamic tenets to have a Jewish state on what is considered to be holy Muslim land. You can’t say that maybe under the right circumstances we’ll compromise and give it [the West Bank] away.”
“This needs to be resolved once and for all with a declaration of rights,” Goldberg added. “The U.S. is not talking about giving up California to Mexico, and the Jewish right to all of Israel is even stronger. I believe it is important to eliminate any mental uncertainty,” and that Israel should annex the West Bank.
Klein said he and the ZOA as an organization “unequivocally oppose a Palestinian state.” But he said he has been asked if that position might change were the Palestinians to “act like Canadians and pose no danger” to Israel.
“My answer is that there is no point in visiting that now,” he said. “We are opposed to a single concession and if they one day change, my board will visit the issue at that time. … When you have a Likud government [in power] that is supporting a Palestinian state, if you say more you lose your credibility.”
But Goldberg said the government headed by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu was “pressured” into accepting the two-state solution.
“I think you lose credibility when you deviate from what you believe,” he said. “I think at least one American Jewish organization should not waffle on this issue.”
Goldberg said the ZOA has been “in a steep decline for at least the past five or six years.” Although the group’s web site boasts 30,000 members, he said he was given a mailing list for only 9,400 members and that only 1,099 had e-mails — about 300 of which “bounced back.”
When asked, Klein declined to say how many members the ZOA has.
Goldberg said the third reason he was running is because of “serious mismanagement” under Klein’s tenure. He pointed out that the Internal Revenue Service revoked the organization’s 501©3 nonprofit status in May 2011 because it failed for the prior three years to file 990 tax returns, which is required of all tax-exempt nonprofit organizations.
“How do you fail to file tax returns for three years?” he asked.
The ZOA subsequently filed returns for the delinquent years and the IRS restored its tax-exempt status last year. Goldberg said when the 990s were filed, he was amazed to see that Klein’s salary had jumped from $315,000 in 2007 to $1,245,851 in 2008.
“I don’t believe it was a coincidence” that the 990 was not filed for 2008, Goldberg said.
Klein’s salary dropped to $717,000 in 2009 and remained at about $500,000 in 2010 and 2011, Goldberg noted.
“I was on the board at that time and the board never approved that salary,” Goldberg said of the 2008 remuneration.
Klein explained that he had worked without a salary for the first five of his 20 years as president, during which he erased the ZOA’s “millions of dollars of debt.” He said the organization now has millions in the bank and that the Encyclopedia Judaica credits him with “reviving the moribund ZOA.”
“There are now at least a dozen donors who give us $100,000 or more annually, three or four who give us over $200,000 annually, and one donor who gives us over $1 million annually,” Klein said.
After five years as president, he said, “a major donor said he would pay my salary if I stayed, and the bylaws were changed” to make that happen.
“The board on its own set up a pension for me, and that was reflected in the 990,” he said of the $1.2 million listed on the 2008 tax form.
“My average salary over 20 years was $200,000 a year — and the majority of the money was paid by a single donor,” Klein insisted. “Goldberg gave us less than $100 in the last two years.”
Goldberg said he figures that Klein’s average salary over 20 years was $280,000. And he questioned how Klein could have taken a salary of $470,000 in 2012 when donations that year totaled $1.4 million.
“He took one-third of the donations for himself,” Goldberg said. “And he got a little more than half of the $2.3 million raised in 2008. … I’m saying this was greed – grossly excessive compensation without the proper approval of the board of directors.”
He added that the ZOA raised “less than $3 million a year for the last 10 years – and that is not a fundraising record to be proud of.”
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