Zionist Organization of America

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ZIONIST ORGANIZATION OF AMERICA (zoa ), U.S. organization of General Zionists. In 1898 Richard *Gottheil, who attended the Zionist Congress in Europe, called a New York conference which formed the Federation of American Zionists. To attract support, the Federation began to publish a monthly, The Maccabean, in 1901, and Dos Yidishe Folk in 1909. The newly formed *Young Judaea (1907) and *Hadassah (1912) joined the Federation, and at a convention in 1918 the various Zionist branches merged into the zoa. Louis D. *Brandeis was elected honorary president and Julian W. *Mack president. The Mack administration (1918–21) participated in the work of the *Zionist Commission in Palestine. At the Cleveland convention of 1921, Brandeis and his adherents, who differed from Chaim *Weizmann and the world leadership in favoring a policy of private economic investment in Palestine, withdrew from the zoa. Louis *Lipsky, who supported the *Keren Hayesod, became president, and the zoa grew numerically, politically, and financially. In 1924 a merger of the annual Zionist major fund-raising efforts created the United Palestine Appeal. After the outbreak of World War ii in September 1939, the American Emergency Committee (Council after 1943) for Zionist Affairs (ecza) began to function. zoa representatives on the ecza occupied the front rank in the political struggles and achievements of that period. During 1946–48, U.S. support for the Jewish state was achieved by the exertions of the mobilized Zionist forces, including the zoa leaders, especially Abba Hillel *Silver and Emanuel *Neumann.

With the founding of the State of Israel on May 14, 1948, the zoa's role diminished and shifted to fund raising and public relations on behalf of Israel. In 1957 a group of prominent Zionists seceded from the zoa and organized the American Jewish League for Israel. The zoa struggled to maintain its position by fostering projects in Israel such as Kefar Silver and the zoa house in Tel Aviv, and stressing Zionist education and Hebrew culture in the U.S. zoa supported the Young Judaea youth movement and several Zionist-oriented summer camps. It published a periodical The New Palestine which later was called The American Zionist. zoa membership was 147,551 in 1918; 44,280 in 1939; and 165,000 in 1950. Since 1950 there has been a decline in membership.

[Herbert Parzen]

zoa's influence continued to diminish in the 1980s and early 1990s as the focus of pro-Israel activism shifted to major lobby groups like the American Israel Public Affairs Committee (aipac) and as Jewish defense agencies increasingly took on pro-Israel functions.

But the group became more prominent after the 1993 election of Philadelphia activist Morton Klein as zoa president in a controversy-ridden contest.

While most pro-Israel groups supported the 1993 Oslo agreement, under Klein the zoa expressed strong reservations, citing ongoing terrorism and continuing statements by Palestine Liberation Organization leader Yasser Arafat rejecting Israel's right to exist. Klein also used his position as a member of the Conference of Presidents of Major Jewish Organization to attack fellow presidents and to criticize individuals including New York Times columnist Thomas Friedman, and to lead a campaign against John K. Roth for director of the Research Institute of the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum. He tried to prevent the Presidents Conference from endorsing the Peace Process even when this was the policy of the elected government of Israel.

As zoa became more critical of Israel's participation in the peace process, the group was wracked by internal dissension over the question of whether it was appropriate for American Jews to criticize the policies of an elected government in Jerusalem. That led to several local chapters, led by a prominent group in Baltimore, to disaffiliate from zoa.

But the shift to the right helped zoa reestablish a strong fundraising base. The group, and Klein in particular, also became close allies of Christian Zionist groups that became increasingly critical of the Oslo process and U.S. involvement in ongoing negotiations.

zoa was most effective in raising the issue of American victims of Palestinian terrorism. In the 1990s, it established a Washington lobbying operation that frequently clashed with aipac, the leading pro-Israel lobby group, and began working closely and virtually exclusively with right-of-center lawmakers. In 2005 zoa became a leading U.S. voice against Israel's unilateral withdrawal from Gaza, conducting a vigorous but ultimately unsuccessful advertising campaign in Israel against the withdrawal.

[James Besser (2nd ed.)]


Zionist Organization of America, Annual Reports, 1 (1898–to date); idem, zoa in Review, 1 (1964–to date); M. Feinstein, American Zionism: 18841904 (1965); R. Learsi, Fulfillment: The Epic Story of Zionism (1951); H. Parzen, A Short History of Zionism (1962); S.H. Sankowsky, A Short History of Zionism (1947), 98–107.