Officials of the American Israel Public Affairs Committee have launched a campaign seeking “disciplinary action” against the president of the Zionist Organization of America for activities they believe go beyond the bounds of pro-Israel activism.
AIPAC, the pro-Israel lobby, has accused Morton Klein, the outspoken president of ZOA, of threatening to “put the entire pro-Israel agenda at risk.”
For the second time in as many months, AIPAC has turned to the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations to try to force Klein to consult and coordinate with AIPAC’s lobbyists on issues related to the U.S.-Israel relationship.
The Conference of Presidents has repeatedly reaffirmed AIPAC’s mandate to lobby in the nation’s capital on behalf of the organized Jewish community. The Conference of Presidents has requested that all member groups coordinate any activity on Capitol Hill with the veteran lobbying organization.
The latest feud in an ongoing debate over who represents the Jewish community on Capitol Hill resulted from Klein’s appearance at a recent congressional conference committee hearing where members of Congress approved, among other things, Israel’s $3 billion aid package.
Klein has confirmed he was at the marathon session that lasted into the early morning hours of July 29. But he vehemently denies he did anything wrong.
SPEAKING WITH ONE CONCERTED VOICE
Some observers are calling the flap a “turf battle” and some say the incident has been blown “way out of proportion.” But many in the organized Jewish community are echoing one similar sentiment: The influence of the Jewish community rests on organizations speaking with one concerted voice.
Klein, along with Sandra Stein, ZOA’s Washington representative, attended the House-Senate conference committee hearing where members of Congress reconciled differences between the two chambers in the Foreign Operations Appropriations Act. Klein and Stein emphatically lobbied members on an amendment that strengthened the link between aid to the Palestine Liberation Organization and its compliance with the peace accords.
The amendment, sponsored by Sens. Arlen Specter (R-Pa.) and Richard Shelby (D-Ala.), was approved by the conference committee despite the objections of the conference committee chairmen, Rep. David Obey (D-Wise.) and Sen. Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.).
AIPAC officials have charged that Klein acted in “an amateurish and hostile fashion.”
They said that his actions contributed to an early morning threat by Leahy to dissolve the conference without passing the foreign aid bill.
The conference culminates “a whole series of intricately and subtly related pieces of legislation, and there is a real sense of balance, of waiting and of symmetry in lobbying members of Congress, each of whom have their own levels of concern,” said Steve Grossman, AIPAC president.
“Mort Klein took unacceptable and inexcusable risks with a piece of legislation at the heart and soul of the U.S.-Israel relationship,” Grossman said in a telephone interview from Jerusalem. “This has to stop before it goes further and significant damage is really done.”
Klein acknowledged he approached members of Congress and their staff during the 13-hour session to press for their support for the provision relating to PLO compliance.
But Klein, who was instrumental in forming peace accord monitoring groups in both the House and the Senate, says he does not understand what the fuss is about.
‘JEALOUSY OVER TURF’
Saying he has every right to lobby Congress, Klein said, “One organization cannot possibly represent community consensus on every issue, and I have a responsibility to speak out.
“This is jealousy over turf. AIPAC is upset about our visibility and they don’t want us to get credit,” Klein said.
Incensed by the charges, Klein said that AIPAC lobbyists present at the conference committee never said a word to him.
He also said that earlier the same week, he had joined AIPAC lobbyists in a meeting with Specter in order to discuss the controversial amendment.
According to AIPAC officials, their lobbyists cautioned Klein about his activities during the congressional committee meeting.
They also said Klein showed up unannounced at the meeting with Specter in the senator’s office.
Jewish groups outside the Conference of Presidents have lobbied on Capitol Hill for years. However, those inside the established umbrella agency have almost always coordinated their efforts with AIPAC.
The Anti-Defamation League, for example, is often active on the Hill with issues related to the Arab boycott of Israel. However, as ADL officials have said, their activities follow consultations with AIPAC.
“There is no American Jewish organization that does not have the right to speak out when something needs to be said in keeping with its mission,” Grossman said. “But it needs to be done with prior consultation so it doesn’t create confusion and send conflicting messages.
“This is an ironclad principle that must be maintained,” Grossman said.
With its letter to the Conference of Presidents, AIPAC did not ask the umbrella organization to take specific actions against Klein. But it did request a meeting to discuss ZOA’s lobbying activities.
In the Aug. 1 letter, Howard Kohr, AIPAC’s managing director, wrote to the Conference of Presidents: “Disciplinary action must be taken against ZOA to ensure such behavior is not repeated.”
A similar discussion took place last month, when AIPAC expressed concern over Klein’s methods regarding the peace accord monitoring groups in Congress.
Lester Pollack, chairman of the Conference of Presidents, said he will convene a fact-finding meeting to determine what happened at the July 29 conference committee meeting and to consider disciplinary action.
The organization has not yet set a date for the meeting, Pollack said.
One Capitol Hill aide with roots in the Jewish community said of the dispute: “All this is, is a Jewish turf battle.”
“Mort Klein uses a primitive form of lobbying but he didn’t put the foreign aid bill at risk,” said another Capitol Hill source who asked not to be identified. “He just doesn’t have that big an effect.”
This staffer likened the latest debate over who represents the Jews to a battle two years ago over the role of Americans for Peace Now in the Jewish community.
‘THERE HAS TO BE COORDINATION’
Peace Now, which often brought its own pro-peace policies to the Hill, at the time was seeking admittance to the Conference of Presidents. The group eventually gained entry following a long intracommunal battle.
Observers say that the difference between Peace Now’s activities and ZOA’s is that when Peace Now lobbied for its own agenda, it had not committed itself to the consensus prescribed by the Conference of Presidents.
Now, as a member of the consensus body, Peace Now officials say, they consult with AIPAC about their lobbying activities.
Some Jewish leaders are expressing concern over Klein’s lobbying activities and what effect it could have on Jewish influence on Capitol Hill.
Jason Isaacson, Washington director of the American Jewish Committee, said, “On matters relating to the U.S.-Israel relationship, specifically foreign aid and other legislation that would effect that relationship, there has been and has to be coordination.
“To free-lance in lobbying Congress invites confusion and can undermine the unique and constructive relationship between the Jewish community and Congress,” Isaacson said.
Ken Jacobson, assistant national director of the Anti-Defamation League, expressed similar concerns.
“The history of success of the Jewish community on Capitol Hill has been based on the principle of consensus,” Jacobson said. “The absence of consensus and coordination creates a free-for-all and merely confuses the efforts.”
The Archive of the Jewish Telegraphic Agency includes articles published from 1923 to 2008. Archive stories reflect the journalistic standards and practices of the time they were published.