The Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations has rejected a call by the Zionist Organization of America to hold a full public hearing to discuss allegations that ZOA leaders acted inappropriately in lobbying Congress.
ZOA President Morton Klein reacted with disappointment to the decision by the Conference of Presidents to instead convene a closed door session with former Conference of Presidents chairmen and the current leadership of the umbrella group.
At issue is activity surrounding a congressional conference committee session on Capitol Hill two weeks ago, at which the foreign aid package was debated.
Following the session, which was attended by lobbyists from the American Israel Public Affairs Committee as well as by Klein and Sandra Stein, ZOA’s Washington representative, AIPAC sent a letter to the Conference of Presidents requesting disciplinary action against the ZOA leaders.
AIPAC charges that Klein jeopardized the foreign aid bill by his lobbying efforts, an allegation Klein unequivocally denies.
The measure passed the conference committee with all relevant Middle East amendments intact, including Israel’s $3 billion in foreign aid.
Both the House and Senate have since approved the measure, and all that remains is for President Clinton to sign it into law.
“Now that AIPAC has made these false allegations public, we have the right to a hearing to get to the bottom of this,” Klein said. “We vehemently deny any wrongdoing and it is important for all of these facts to come to the fore.”
SESSION WOULD BE ‘CONFRONTATIONAL’
In a statement denying Klein’s request for an open hearing, Lester Pollack, chairman of the Conference of Presidents, said such a session “by definition will be confrontational in nature.”
Instead, Pollack is proposing a meeting with past chairmen of the conference and representatives from ZOA and AIPAC.
The objective of the meeting is to “reiterate the established guidelines so that there is consultation, not competition, among all of our member organizations,” Pollack said in the statement.
Among the issues to be discussed are AIPAC’s role as the designated organization responsible for lobbying Congress and what specifically is required of member groups who want to lobby on Capitol Hill, according to Conference of Presidents officials.
Currently there is an unwritten understanding that Jewish groups are supposed to coordinate and consult with AIPAC on their Capitol Hill activities.
Klein and AIPAC disagree over whether ZOA coordinated its activities before the congressional conference committee meeting.
AIPAC President Steve Grossman said he will defer to the Conference of Presidents to decide what is the best venue to hear his organization’s complaint.
Grossman declined to specify what action, if any, should be taken against ZOA.
“Our bottom line is that we want to serve the community in the best possible way, and obviously the most important issue for us is that there be prior consultation and coordination on all matters relating to pro-Israel activism on the Hill,” Grossman said.
Pollack has not yet set a date for the meeting.
Klein said he will discuss the matter with Nathan Lewin, an attorney he hopes will represent him before an open meeting of the Conference of Presidents.
Klein said that it is only fair for there to be an open meeting to specifically address AIPAC’s allegations prior to a more general discussion about lobbying guidelines.
Otherwise, Klein said, “this is conviction without trial.”
Meanwhile, the Baltimore chapter of the Zionist Organization of America has broken away from the national organization and will concentrate on local activities.
The group has changed its name to the Baltimore Zionist District.
Privately, Baltimore ZOA officials say the move away from the national organization is a protest against the direction that Klein has been taking the organization.
In December, Klein defeated Baltimore’s James Schiller in a race for the ZOA presidency.
Although the Baltimore group decided to take its action prior to the recent ZOA-AIPAC flap, an executive committee member said the latest controversy confirmed his view that Baltimore had taken the right step.
The 25-member executive committee voted unanimously for the name change and to withhold funds from ZOA, according to one member of the executive committee who asked not to be named.
However, according to Klein, the group will continue to make payments towards a second mortgage on the ZOA national headquarters in Manhattan.
Since Klein’s election as president, the Baltimore chapter, historically one of the organization’s largest fund raisers, has not sent any donations or dues to ZOA.
Klein said Baltimore’s action represents a violation of the organization’s by-laws.
Klein said he is planning a trip to Baltimore in the coming months to try and smooth relations and woo the group back into the national organization.
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.