Zionist Organization of America

Zionist Organization of America
Abbreviation ZOA
Formation 1897[1]
Type Zionism
Leader Morton Klein
Website zoa.org

The Zionist Organization of America (ZOA), founded in 1897, was the first official Zionist organization in the United States, and, especially early in the 20th century, the primary representative of American Jews to the World Zionist Organization, espousing primarily Political Zionism.

Today, the ZOA is a prominent pro-Israel group in the United States, with 25,000 current members.


The ZOA was initially founded as the Federation of American Zionists (FAZ),[3] an amalgam of Hebrew societies, Chovevei Zion, and Jewish nationalist clubs that all endorsed the Basle programme of the First Zionist Congress. Initially founded in 1897 as an organization for the greater New York area, the FAZ was established as a national organization at a conference in New York the next year where the constitution was adopted by the delegates with Richard Gottheil elected as president and Stephen S Wise as honorary secretary.[4] The FAZ, renamed the ZOA in 1917, was founded to support the founding of the 'Jewish National Home in Palestine'. Along with its sister organization Janadava, the Women's Zionist Organization of America, and the Labor Zionist Po'ale Zion parties, and the Religious Zionist Mizrachi, the ZOA served as one of the key voices in early American Zionism. Their voice was limited however, since most American Jews and the organized American Jewish Committee were initially strong opponents of the Zionist movement, and worried, with their assimilationist views, about charges of ‘dual loyalty’, a common antisemitic canard. The demographics of Jewish Americans were changing rapidly around the turn of the 20th century and by 1920 and the Jewish population of America had increased by over ten times.

When the secular “people’s lawyer” Louis Brandeis became involved in the movement in 1912, just before the First World War, Zionism started gaining significant support.[5] By 1917, Brandeis' leadership had increased American Zionist membership ten times to 200,000 members, and “American Jewry thenceforth became the financial center for the world Zionist movement,”[6] greatly surpassing its previous European base of support. In addition early in the war years, he and others established the American Provisional Executive Committee for General Zionist Affairs, to run Zionist affairs on behalf of the worldwide Zionist Organization, which had been rendered largely impotent because its members were divided by allegiance to the different sides in the conflict.[7]

The Zionist Organization of America was instrumental in mobilizing the support of the U.S. government, Congress, and the American public for the creation of Israel in 1948. Former ZOA presidents of the period included Louis D. Brandeis, Louis Lipsky, Daniel Frisch, Rabbi Stephen Samuel Wise, and Rabbi Abba Hillel Silver.

In 1949 the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) investigated the ZOA under the 1938 Foreign Agents Registration Act after the organization solicited supporters to accelerate technology transfers to Jews in Palestine. On February 25, 1948 the ZOA was ordered to register as a foreign agent. After a series of conferences with the US Attorney General, the ZOA changed its constitution and "affected a change in the constitution of the World Zionist Organization in an effort to remove itself from agency status. As a result all attempts to procure the registration of the subject organization were dropped."[8]

Following the founding of Israel, and to unify Jewish representation with the executive branch of US government, the ZOA became a charter member of the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations.[9] ZOA was historically a liberal Zionist group, though it has since become right-wing.[10]

Current activities

Israeli stamp issued toward inauguration of Z.O.A. House in Tel Aviv

In 2005, the Los Angeles branch of ZOA elected former actor and singer Ed Ames as president.[11] This elicited a mixed compliment from Tom Tugend of The Jewish Journal of Greater Los Angeles. His article notes that Ames' career was far behind him and makes particular note of his role as an actor on the Daniel Boone TV series, before going on to say, "Founded in 1896, ZOA had been in decline from its heydays under the leadership of Louis Brandeis and Rabbi Abba Hillel Silver, but has regained some prominence since the energetic and vocal Klein assumed the presidency 10 years ago," having been elected in 1993 and assuming office in 1994.[11]

As of 2005, the organization has a national membership of over 50,000.[12] There are active chapters throughout the United States, including Boston, Chicago, Cleveland, Columbus, Dallas, Detroit, Los Angeles, Miami, Milwaukee, North Jersey, Philadelphia, Pittsburgh, South Jersey and Washington, D.C., and Youngstown.

The ZOA today works to strengthen U.S.-Israel relations through educational activities, [13] by combating what it perceives as anti-Israel bias in the media, textbooks, travel guides, and on college campuses. The ZOA's Law and Justice Department has also been at the forefront of legal efforts to combat campus[14] anti-Semitism.

The ZOA also sponsors educational and cultural programs in Israel. The "ZOA House" is a noted cultural center in Tel Aviv.[15] The ZOA is responsible for founding the Kfar Silver school, which provides education and vocational training for new Jewish immigrants and others on a 500-acre (2.0 km2) campus near Ashkelon. The ZOA's youth division sponsors one of the largest programs for sending young Jews to visit Israel.

The president of the ZOA is Morton Klein.[16] Its executive director is David Drimer.[17] Nelson Obus is on the Board of Directors, serving as Head of the Finance Committee.

The ZOA was strongly opposed to Israel's decision to withdraw from the Gaza Strip in 2005. In January 2009, the ZOA issued a statement calling on supporters of the withdrawal to apologize, stating that the "past three years of rapid security deterioration in the southern part of Israel," and that "in these circumstances, it is high time for all MKs, journalists and others, regardless of party affiliation, who supported the process of unilateral withdrawal to apologize to the Israeli electorate.[18]

In January 2009, the ZOA expressed concern about President Barack Obama's selection of George J. Mitchell as an envoy to the Middle East. The ZOA criticized Mitchell because he "believes both sides are equally at fault" and that "settlements are the main problem, not the Palestinian people' refusal to end terrorism." The ZOA also stated that "George Mitchell’s success with the IRA-British problem doesn’t translate to success with the Palestinian struggle against Israeli military occupation. However extreme and murderous the IRA was, the goal was not the destruction of Britain and extermination of its people. They wanted only to remove Northern Ireland from British rule. By contrast, the goal of Hamas and the Palestinian nationalist movement is Israel’s destruction and the murder of Jews, not merely the creation of a Palestinian Arab state next to it."[19]

ZOA was explicitly opposed to the selection of Charles W. Freeman, Jr. as Chairman of the National intelligence Council in February, 2009.[20] He withdrew from the post on March 10, 2009.

In late March 2009, ZOA activists urged the United States Congress to tighten sanctions on Iran and place conditions on U.S. aid to the Palestinians. The ZOA stated that Congress should make the Palestinians comply with commitments to "end incitement and arrest terrorists" before receiving the $900 million in financial assistance that the United States has pledged. However, the ZOA reportedly faced opposition from the American Israel Public Affairs Committee, which had called for the aid to be distributed without these additional conditions. The ZOA activists also expressed support for legislation to enhance transparency for U.S. funds that go to the United Nations Relief and Works Agency (UNRWA) for Palestinian refugees and for a bill that withdraws funding for the 2009 Durban Review Conference.[21]

ZOA has been highly critical of Israeli security procedures on the Temple Mount in Jerusalem, which they claim discriminate against religious Jews. It questioned Israeli claims that these restrictions were truly necessary to maintain security, and demanded "unimpeded access" to the Temple Mount.[22] ZOA is sharply critical of Israeli police and security personnel, who attempt to appease the Wakf authority on the Temple Mount, by engaging in discrimination against openly Jewish visitors which includes: arrest for praying at the Temple Mount, arrest for swaying or bowing, and arrest for wearing a prayer shawl or tefillin (phylacteries)

In 2012 ZOA lost its charitable status in the United States. This was reportedly due to the fact that it failed to provide the Internal Revenue Service with tax returns for three consecutive years.[23][24] The tax-exempt status was restored by the IRS in 2013.[25]

The ZOA was criticized for failing to comment on the killing of a Palestinian teenager.[26]

Brandeis Award

The Brandeis Award is given annually to a prominent national or international figure. Recipients include Miriam Adelson, Joseph Biden, Abba Eban, Justice Arthur Goldberg, Ronald Lauder, Natan Sharansky, Simon Wiesenthal, Elizabeth Taylor, Mortimer Zuckerman,[27] Raanan Gissin and Frank Gaffney.[28]

See also


  1. Nathaniel Popper (14 April 2006). "ZOA Pressed by Former Officials Over Guard's Pay". The Forward.
  2. http://zoa.org/about/
  3.  Singer, Isidore; et al., eds. (1901–1906). "Federation of American Zionists". Federation of American Zionists. Jewish Encyclopedia. New York: Funk & Wagnalls Company.
    Zionist Organization of America, The Shengold Jewish Encyclopedia, Schreiber Pub., 2003; p. 297 (via Google Books)
    Zionist Organization of America, Encyclopedia Judaica 2nd ed, 2008 (via Jewish Virtual Library)
  4. Louis Lipsky (1927) Thirty Years of American Zionism Published by Ayer Publishing, 1977 ISBN 0-405-10263-1 pp 21-22
    Report of the Second Annual Conference, in Baltimore, New York Times, 19 June 1899
  5. "Patriot, Judge, and Zionist". Archived from the original on 27 October 2007.
  6. "American Jewish Historical Society". Archived from the original on 18 May 2008.
  7. Michael Brown, The Israeli-American connection: its roots in the yishuv, 1914-1945 Glossary, p354-355
  8. Zionist Organization of America Part 5 of 10 Federal Bureau of Investigation
  9. "ZOA Letter to the Chancellor of UCLA Regarding Gaza Symposium [incl. Sondra Hale]".
  10. Jason Horowitz (2014-12-17). "Can Liberal Zionists Count On Hillary Clinton?". New York Times Magazine.
  11. 1 2 Tugend, Tom (31 March 2005). "Zionist Organization Sings Way to L.A.". The Jewish Journal of Greater Los Angeles. 'TRIBE Media.
  12. vs. Encyclopedia Judaica, 1971 edition, volume 16: 165,000 in 1950
  13. ZOA Retools Its Image by Focusing on Jihad Via Lectures and Film | The Jewish Exponent Archived September 6, 2009, at the Wayback Machine.
  14. "Israel on Campus Coalition".
  15. An article in The Daily Forward notes that the building was sold to a fashion company in 2004, but that did not stop its use for pro-Israel purposes, even if not under direct ownership of ZOA
  16. "ZOA: National president Morton A. Klein".
  17. Press Release by ZOA, Nov. 21 2011
  18. ZOA: Backers of Gaza withdrawal should apologize Archived January 23, 2009, at the Wayback Machine. by Eric Fingerhut, Jewish Telegraphic Agency (JTA), January 20, 2009.
  19. ZOA ‘troubled’ by Mitchell pick by Eric Fingerhut, Jewish Telegraphic Agency (JTA), January 26, 2009.
  20. "Zionist Organization of America - ZOA To President Obama: Don't Appoint Anti-Israel, Pro-Arab Lobbyist Chas Freeman To Head National Intelligence Council".
  21. ZOA lobbies Capitol Hill Archived May 9, 2012, at the Wayback Machine., Jewish Telegraphic Agency (JTA), March 31, 2009.
  22. ZOA to Israel Gov't: End Police and Muslim Wakf Discrimination Against Jews On Temple Mount, ZOA Press Release, Feb. 13, 2012
  23. Washington Report on Middle East Affairs. January/February 2013 Vol.XXXII, No. 1. pp.29,31
  24. ZOA Faces Doubts About Management by Josh Nathan-Kazis, The Forward, September 12, 2012 (issue of September 21, 2012).
  25. VP bids to oust Klein in ZOA vote by Renee Ghert-Zand, Times of Israel, February 24, 2014 .
  26. Weiss, Anthony. "ZOA's Double Standard". Retrieved 16 February 2016.
  27. Fox TV’s William Kristol, Christian Zionist Leader Gary Bauer, Knesset Deputy Speaker Danon, Headline ZOA Brandeis Dinner; ZOA website, 29 October 2010
  28. "Center for Security Policy - Frank Gaffney". Center for Security Policy.

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