During the buildup to Israel’s withdrawal from Gaza last year, the Zionist Organization of America and its outspoken national president, Morton Klein, spearheaded opposition to the plan among right-wing American Jews. At the same time that he was juggling Middle Eastern politics, however, Klein also was facing down a lawsuit from his ghostwriter and top adviser and a labor grievance from the organization’s longtime receptionist.
The ZOA, a storied century-old organization, employs fewer than 20 people, but the two recent complaints are only the latest of a raft of workplace problems for Klein — problems that many inside the organization say he has caused. Klein was elected national president of the ZOA in 1993. Since then he has assumed almost complete control of the organization, staying in office thanks to a constitutional change that allows him to remain president indefinitely.
During his tenure, Klein has turned the ZOA into arguably the most prominent American opponent of Israeli territorial concessions and American aid to the Palestinians, with fiery speeches, endless press releases, frequent newspaper opinion pieces and intense lobbying in Washington. He has won over such big-name donors as Lowell Milken, brother of famous junk-bond trader Michael Milken. But interviews with more than a dozen former employees and board members indicate that Klein’s tenacity and control of the organization can make working for the ZOA a sometimes unnerving and unhappy experience.