The Zionist Organization of America (ZOA) (Hebrew: ), 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 claims to have 25,000 members.
The ZOA was initially founded in 1897 as the Federation of American Zionists (FAZ), an amalgam of Hebrew societies, Chovevei Zion, and Jewish nationalist clubs that all endorsed the Basle programme of the First Zionist Congress. Initially founded 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. The FAZ was meant to support the founding of the 'Jewish National Home in Palestine'. Along with its sister organization, Hadassah Women's Zionist Organization of America, founded 1912, as well as 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.
When the secular "people's lawyer" Louis Brandeis became involved in the movement in 1912, just before World War I, Zionism started gaining significant support. 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," greatly surpassing its previous European base of support. In addition, during the early years of World War I, 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.
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 during the period included Brandeis, Louis Lipsky, Daniel Frisch, Stephen Samuel Wise, and Abba Hillel Silver.
In 1949 the Federal Bureau of Investigation 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."
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. ZOA was historically a liberal Zionist group, though it has since become right-wing.
In 2005, the Los Angeles branch of ZOA elected former actor and singer Ed Ames as president. Tom Tugend of The Jewish Journal of Greater Los Angeles noted that Ames' career was far behind him and made 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 heyday 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.
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."
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." ZOA was also opposed to the selection of Charles W. Freeman, Jr. as Chairman of the National intelligence Council in February, 2009. He withdrew from the post on March 10, 2009.
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.
In 2012 ZOA lost its charitable status in the United States, having failed to provide the Internal Revenue Service with tax returns for three consecutive years. The tax-exempt status was restored by the IRS in 2013.
The ZOA was criticized for failing to comment on the killing of a Palestinian teenager.
In January 2018, ZOA president Mort Klein went on a paid trip to Qatar to meet with the Emir, at his invitation; he also met with a number of senior officials. The visit was strongly criticized by some supporters of Israel, and according to Mother Jones magazine, the trip coincided with a softening of the ZOA's stance regarding that country. Shortly after Klein's trip to Qatar, he expressed to the Israeli newspaper Haaretz a new attitude about dialogue with Qatar. In a subsequent March 2018 interview, Klein praised Qatar for flying an Israeli flag at a recent handball tournament and said the Emir told him that "last summer they stopped funding terrorist groups."
On June 19, 2018, Mother Jones reported that Qatar had donated $100,000 to the ZOA through lobbyist Joey Allaham, who also invited former Qatari diplomat Ahmed Al-Rumaihi to ZOA's annual gala on November 17. Allaham's role in the payments to ZOA from Qatar were revealed when a judge ruled that he had to hand over his records of ties to that country. On June 21, Allaham told the Jerusalem Post that he is "proud of the work that Mort Klein has done and all the other Jewish leaders working in collaboration with the Emir and other members of the Qatari Royal Family." ZOA returned the contributions after they were found to not have come Allaham personally.
The ZOA today works to strengthen U.S.-Israel relations through educational activities, by combating what it perceives as anti-Israel bias in the media, textbooks, travel guides, and on college campuses. The ZOA also sponsors educational and cultural programs in Israel. The "ZOA House" is a noted cultural center in Tel Aviv. 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 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,Raanan Gissin and Frank Gaffney.
The ZOA and its President Morton Klein are active voices against the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions movement against Israel, having once even spoken to the issue in an address to the Israeli Knesset.
Following the Pittsburgh synagogue shooting the Zionist Organization of America released a sprawling press release about the need to combat anti-Semitism in all forms. Klein is quoted in the release stating: " It is time to wake up, and for the leaders of all Jewish organizations, Christian and Muslim organizations, local and national government, university and media leaders and social media professionals to meet and join together, and to join with ZOA, in condemning, clamping down on, and countering the daily anti-Semitic activities that the world remains largely silent about, and the evil lies spread against Jews and the Jewish state that are feeding into an atmosphere that encourages and legitimizes attacks on Jews. ZOA urges President Trump to make a major public address on anti-Semitism and bigotry, and quickly fill the post of the head of the government department responsible for fighting anti-Semitism."
The Zionist Organization presents the 'Defender of Israel' award annually to those who have made major contributions in strengthening U.S.-Israel Relations. US National Security Adviser John Bolton was presented with the Defender of Israel award on November 5, 2018.
The ZOA sent a letter on Tuesday to two major groups that represent teaching instructors nationwide regarding the seven-year-old case of Rutgers University in New Jersey allowing discrimination against Jewish students. ZOA national president Morton Klein and Susan Tuchman, director of the ZOA's Center for Law and Justice, wrote to Randi Weingarten, president of the American Federation of Teachers, and Rudy Fichtenbaum, president of the American Association of University Professors, in response to their criticism on Oct. 12 of the U.S. Department of Education reopening the Rutgers case in September. "We are currently living in a period when racist and xenophobic hatred is being seen more and more on college campuses," wrote Weingarten and Fichtenbaum. "The events in Charlottesville, Va., during the summer of 2017 are seared in our memory, but the issue remains: Earlier this week, anti-Semitic fliers were plastered around the campus of University of California, Davis; Sacramento City College was defaced with swastikas; and the president of the United States continues to claim that George Soros is funding his opposition.
The ZOA has called for academic and activist Marc Lamont Hill to be fired from Temple University in Philadelphia, where he teaches, and CNN, where he is a contributor, for his support of Nation of Islam leader Louis Farrakhan. "It's time for CNN and Temple University to fire Marc Lamont Hill, where Hill is a contributor and professor respectively," said ZOA national president Mort Klein. "Hill has continued to promote Nation of Islam leader Louis Farrakhan even after Farrakhan equated Jews to 'termites' on Facebook last week, and despite Farrakhan's unrepentant, lengthy, continuing history of making virulent anti-Semitic speeches, sermons and statements." Klein cited that Hill posted the following on Instagram in 2016: "Been blessed to spend the last day with Minister Louis Farrakhan. An amazing time of learning, listening, laughing, and even head nodding to music. God is Great." "Can you imagine the reaction if someone insisted on "amazing" "learning, listening and laughing" etc. with [Ku Klux Klan activist, and white supremacist and nationalist] David Duke? Such an individual would immediately be fired from every respectable media station and university in the country," said Klein. "Shouldn't someone who praises and insists upon learning from, listening to and laughing together with hate-mongering Louis Farrakhan be treated similarly?"
On January 8, 2019, The Times of Israel reported that the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations reprimanded the ZOA for insulting others members. The report continued that ZOA resorted to making "insults, ad hominem attachs and name-calling." It further stated that "ZOA knew, or should have known, that its repeated, patterned public criticisms of two of the complainants were unnecessarily shrill and personally directed, and that they would be seen as personal or organizational insults as much, or more, than they would be seen as substantive criticisms".
On February 26, 2019, the ZOA was quoted in a Jewish News Syndicate reported amid American Jewish criticism over Otzma Yehudit Party. The ZOA quote in the story states: "It's strange, troubling and hypocritical that the Anti-Defamation League, AIPAC, the American Jewish Committee and the Israel Policy Forum condemned the technical merger of two small right-wing pro-Israeli political parties, Otzma Yehudit (Jewish Strength) and Bayit Yehudi (Jewish Home), but remained silent about mergers of anti-Israel Arab parties led by Arab Knesset members who oppose the Jewish state's existence and engage in outright treacherous conduct, including assisting Palestinian Arab terrorists and inciting anti-Jewish terror."
On March 28, 2019, ZOA President Morton Klein was featured in a New York Times article entitled "How the Battle Over Israel and Anti-Semitism is Fracturing American Politics." Klein is quoted in the article - stating: "The issue is not land; the issue is not statehood. The Palestinians don't want peace no matter what, because the Palestinians were offered a state in '37 and '47, and they said no. In 2000, 2001, 2008, they said no."
On April 9, 2019, ZOA President Morton Klein told a congressional committee that the "New Zealand mosque murderer was actually a left-wing self-described 'eco-Fascist' who also published a manifesto praising Communist China as 'the national with the closest political and social values to my own."