Posted by: Morton A. Klein
April 26, 2020
Op-Ed

JNS: A letter to the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations

To: Mr. William Daroff, Mr. Malcolm Hoenlein, Mr. Stephen Greenberg and Mr. Arthur Stark

Gentlemen,

On behalf of the Zionist Organization of America (ZOA), the oldest pro-Zionist organization in America and a founding member of the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations (“COP” or “Conference”), we write to express our deep concerns regarding the nomination of Dianne Lob, former chairperson of the board of HIAS, as the next COP chairperson. ZOA believes that electing Ms. Lob would undermine and create multiple serious conflicts with the COP’s mission to help Israel and the Jewish people, and would damage the COP’s relationships with U.S. federal, state and local governments, and the Israeli government and people.

We are not comfortable with her nomination for the following reasons, among others:

1.) Unknown, inexperienced:

Ms. Lob is virtually unknown to the Conference members. She has not spent significant time at the Conference. We do not know of any COP members who have seen her at any COP meetings. Like many other COP members, we have never met Ms. Lob. She did not join the February missions to Saudi Arabia and Israel. She has not been active in Conference activities. As such, she lacks the requisite extensive network of relationships and experience with the complex dynamics affecting the Conference.

2.) HIAS:

HIAS is not the proper organization from which the top leader of the American Jewish community should be chosen. We are also deeply concerned that Ms. Lob holds the same troubling views as the organization that she led. Especially at this time with the current administration in the White House.

It is reasonable to assume that Ms. Lob’s views are the same as those of HIAS. It is an understandable human trait, that when an individual desires an appointment to an important post, she will temporarily adjust her views to be palatable to persons making the decision. This phenomenon is so common that it has a name: “confirmation conversion.” It is thus reasonable to be skeptical if views Ms. Lob may have expressed to the COP nominating committee differed from HIAS’s positions and actions under her chairpersonship.

Specific concerns about HIAS’s activities and positions while under Ms. Lob’s leadership include the following:

3.) HIAS’s collaborations are inimical to the COP’s mission:

HIAS collaborates with Islamic Relief: HIAS has been “collaborating” (HIAS’s term) with Islamic Relief USA (IRUSA) on various matters for several years, including initiating a joint program in 2018 to provide legal assistance to Muslim migrants flooding (usually through Turkey) into Greece (and hence into the European Union). IRUSA is the American branch of, and has extensive financial and leadership ties to and interchanges with, Islamic Relief Worldwide (IRW). IRW and IRUSA have extremely concerning financing and other ties to Hamas and the Muslim Brotherhood.

ZOA believes that electing Ms. Dianne Lob as chairperson of the Conference would create multiple serious conflicts with the COP’s mission to help Israel and the Jewish people, and damage its relationships with the U.S. government, as well as the Israeli government and people.

An anonymous U.S. Department of Justice source told the media: “This is a national security issue. We know that these Muslim leaders and groups are continuing to raise money for Hamas and other terrorist organizations. Ten years ago we shut down the Holy Land Foundation. It was the right thing to do. Then the money started going to KindHearts. We shut them down, too. Now the money is going through groups like Islamic Relief.”

An Egyptian list of 30 alleged Muslim Brotherhood operatives in the United States included five current or former senior IRUSA leaders. Israel arrested an IRW official and banned IRW due to IRW’s terrorist activities (including funding Hamas). The UAE declared IRW to be a terrorist organization. The U.K.-based USBC bank shut down IRW’s banking operations because funds were likely to fall into terrorist hands. IRW also has ties to IHH (the Turkish terrorist organization and Muslim Brotherhood branch that perpetrated the Gaza flotilla attack on Israeli inspectors).

For detailed reports on IRUSA’s and IRW’s terrorism ties, see: Clarion Project report on IRUSA;Center for Security Policy report on IRUSA; and NGO Monitor report on IRW.

HIAS collaborates with CAIR, MPAC, etc.: HIAS announced that its Clearwater, Fla. program to resettle Syrian refugees “works closely with the Council on American Islamic Relations [CAIR].” HIAS also signed joint letters with CAIR and other virulently anti-Semitic, anti-Israel groups, including the Muslim Public Affairs Council (MPAC). The Muslim Brotherhood-affiliated CAIR is an unindicted co-conspirator in the Holy Land Foundation trial for funneling money to Hamas. The HIAS-CAIR-MPAC letters wrongly claimed that further security restrictions were unnecessary because Syrian refugees’ information was checked against government databases. In fact, the databases did not exist.

HIAS signed a letter, with Israel-bashing groups, defending Linda Sarsour: HIAS leaders co-signed a 2017 letter, together with Israel-bashers including Jewish Voice for Peace, IfNotNow, J Street, the New Israel Fund and T’ruah, defending Jew-hating, Israel-hating, BDS-promoting Muslim supremacist Linda Sarsour. The letter signed by HIAS condemned parties who criticize Linda Sarsour, by declaring: “We will not stand by as Sarsour is falsely maligned, harassed and smeared.”

In fact, Sarsour infamously asserted that “there is nothing creepier than Zionism”; praised the Palestinian Authority tactic of deploying children to hurl rocks at Israelis as the “definition of courage”; tweeted of genuine women’s rights advocates Ayaan Hirsi Ali (who suffered female genital mutilation as a child) and Lebanese-born Brigitte Gabriel “I wish I could take away their vaginas”; and embraced Rasmeah Odeh, a Palestinian terrorist convicted of murdering two Israelis,saying she was “honored” to be on the same stage with her.

HIAS collaborates with anti-Semitic U.N. agencies: HIAS relies on for its refugee streams and closely collaborates with anti-Semitic, anti-Israel U.N. agencies UNHCR and UNICEF. (For instance, UNICEF falsely accused Israel of killing 25 Palestinian children and wounding 1,300 Palestinian children in 2015.) Placing a leader of an organization that relies on U.N. agencies at the helm of the COP would conflict with the COP’s mission of confronting and ending anti-Israel bias at the United Nations.

4.) Litigation and Advocacy Conflicts: HIAS has been initiating and has long been involved in divisive, left-wing litigation and public advocacy on the national and international stage, in opposition to the U.S. federal, state, local and Israeli governments. HIAS’s litigation positions are detrimental to the safety of the American (and especially, American Jewish) public.

For instance, HIAS initiated and served as a lead plaintiff in multiple lawsuits against the Trump administration, to try to overturn the Trump administration’s travel bans to protect Americans (including vulnerable Jewish Americans). The travel bans suspended entry from six Muslim majority countries and two non-Muslim countries that do not share adequate information with the United States and/or present other serious risks of foreign terrorists entering the United States. These countries included three designated state sponsors of terrorism and five countries where violence shut down the U.S. embassy, rendering vetting impossible. The U.S. Supreme Court ultimately ruled in favor of the Trump administration.

HIAS’s litigation directly conflicts with the COP’s missions to “advance the interests of the American Jewish community … aid endangered Jewish communities, fight anti-Semitism, combat terrorism at home and abroad, strengthen domestic security and safeguard American Jewish institutions.” See for example ZOA’s amicus brief in support of the Trump administration. ZOA’s brief provided some factors adopted by the U.S. Supreme Court, and details the safety issues affecting the Jewish community and all Americans.

HIAS essentially acknowledged at the outset of its lawsuits that the Trump administration’s position was legally correct. HIAS thus adopted an aggressive “embarrassment” public-relations strategy. HIAS President and CEO Mark Hetfield stated: “[I]t is not at all clear that there is any way to overturn the [U.S. President’s] executive order. The 1980 Refugee Act … gives the president broad control over immigration … The strategy HIAS is adopting now is ‘to be as public and as aggressive as we can. The only way we can change this policy is to embarrass the president.’”

We believe that HIAS’s strategy was ethically questionable. We further believe that the COP’s mission to help Israel and the Jewish people would be compromised if the COP is led by the head of an organization that adopted such an uncalled-for aggressive strategy to embarrass a U.S. president who is following the law, and who has been a great friend to Israel and the Jewish people.

HIAS also initiated a lawsuit opposing state and local governments’ ability to control resettlement in their districts. States, localities and concerned citizens have long been upset about resettlement agencies, such as HIAS, resettling refugees in their communities without the communities’ consent. In addition, when Texas Gov. Greg Abbott (a great friend of Israel and the Jewish people) withheld consent for more resettlement in his overburdened state, HIAS publicly condemned him.

HIAS undermines Israeli policy: HIAS repeatedly opposes and undermines Israel’s efforts to contend with and repatriate the thousands of illegal Eritrean migrants whose criminal activities have made life virtually unlivable for the residents of southern Tel Aviv, especially elderly Jews. HIAS’s primary activity in Israel is assisting illegal, non-Jewish migrants against the Israeli government and people.

5.) HIAS is not a Jewish organization:

HIAS is, by its own definition, not a Jewish organization, having officially dropped, in 2014, the word “Hebrew” from its name as being “exclusionary.” The vast majority of material on HIAS’s website does not promote Jews or Israel. Given this and HIAS’s lack of Jewish clients (discussed in the next section), HIAS likely does not even qualify for COP membership. The “Processes and Procedures of the Conference of Presidents” (updated March 2017) limits COP membership “to those national Jewish organizations whose primary purpose is to serve the interests of the American Jewish community and whose activities are consistent with the goals and objectives of the Conference.” It would be inappropriate to select a COP chairperson from an organization that likely does not meet the COP’s membership requirements.

6.) HIAS has primarily non-Jewish clients:

Today, HIAS primarily serves non-Jewish (and especially Muslim) clients; while ignoring endangered Jews who need to emigrate from Europe due to increasing anti-Semitism.

HIAS’s own complaint (in a lawsuit opposing the Trump administration’s efforts to protect American safety) states: “HIAS’s client base includes refugees abroad and in the United States who are from Syria, Iraq, Iran, Sudan, Somalia, Ukraine, Bhutan, the Democratic Republic of Congo, Afghanistan, Eritrea, Tanzania, Ethiopia, Burundi, South Sudan, Uganda, Russia, Belarus and Burma, among other countries. Many of these clients are Muslim.”

A 2016 letter to the editor in the Forward, co-authored by Ms. Lob, revealed that the Syrians and Iraqis brought into the United States are not Jews (and that 90 percent of Syrians and 65 percent of Iraqis brought into the United States by HIAS are Muslim).

Notably, according to the ADL Global 100 Antisemitism Index, in 16 Muslim majority Middle Eastern countries, 74 percent to 93 percent of the population is anti-Semitic. HIAS’s activities thus risk harming American Jews and conflict with the COP’s missions of combating anti-Semitism and assuring the safety of American Jews.

A January 2017 Forward article stated that, in 2016, “about half” the refugees HIAS assisted were Muslim and only 169 (just 4 percent) were Jews, out of a total of 4,188 refugees. HIAS president Hetfield admitted in 2018, during HIAS’s internal COP litigation to try to silence ZOA from speaking up about HIAS’s activities, that approximately 45 percent to 80 percent of its clientele is Muslim, and about 5 percent is Jewish. HIAS’s website reveals that virtually its entire focus is on assisting non-Jews.

Chairmanship of the Conference is viewed by many as the highest honor in the American Jewish community. This honor should not be bestowed on a person—however competent and accomplished she has been in her own unrelated finance career—who lacks experience in the larger organized Jewish community and remains closely associated with an organization that promotes policies that conflict with the Conference’s mission to fight for Jews and Israel.

And, even more so, not at this time. The American Jewish community is fractured; Israel has been unable to form a government; we are all dealing with the virus; almost none of us have met this virtual unknown (in our circles) candidate; and the Conference is in the midst of a historic leadership transition.

The help and guidance of an experienced hand as chairperson, who has at least a centrist background, is especially important now, with our current administrations in both Washington and likely in Israel, and with a new CEO, William Daroff, starting his position as leader of the Conference.

We should not underestimate the potential harm that Ms. Lob’s election could do to the Conference’s needed close relationships with the White House and Israel.

We also note that, unlike in the past, the Nominating Committee’s recommendation was not announced as “unanimous.” Widespread concerns have been expressed about Ms. Lob’s nomination since it was announced. There is, and will continue to be significant opposition to this nomination.

We should also keep in mind that the virus has disrupted the Conference’s ability to operate in its customary, essential, face-to-face close interpersonal fashion. We are being asked to vote for someone whom most of us have never met and whom we cannot currently meet and assess in person. An election during the current pandemic would be electronic, cutting out the interpersonal connections and give-and-take which are the hallmark of how the Conference operates.

We also do not know if the COP’s constitution and bylaws restrict electronic meetings or voting. Please promptly send us a copy of the COP constitution and bylaws. (Incidentally, we previously requested these documents. Other COP members also told us that they requested, but did not receive, these documents.) The COP’s policies and procedures say nothing about electronic voting.

Recommendations: Given all of the above, we strongly and urgently recommend that the COP should:

A) Immediately withdraw Ms. Lob’s nomination; and/or B) retain the current COP chairman, Arthur Stark, and postpone an election for a new COP chairperson until at least the end of 2020 and until after the coronavirus pandemic is fully resolved, and the COP’s members have had an opportunity to meet, assess and vet Ms. Lob; and/or C) hold a COP meeting solely to vote on the timing of the election for COP chairperson (i.e., whether the election for the post should take place now or after the coronavirus pandemic has receded, and COP members have had an opportunity to meet, assess and vet Ms. Lob); and/or D) refrain from holding a one-person election in which Ms. Lob is the only candidate, and instead hold a competitive election that gives the COP’s 54 member organizations the opportunity to choose a highly qualified, fully vetted, non-conflicted candidate instead of Ms. Lob.

Regarding recommendation B), we would hope that, just as Stephen Greenberg stayed on for an extra year as COP chairman prior to Stark’s election, Stark, too, would consent to remain in office as interim chairman, in order to accommodate current extraordinary circumstances. If he is unwilling to remain in office, another interim chairperson (such as Mr. Greenberg) could be appointed.

We also note that inadequate notice was received regarding an election meeting. The COP’s Policies and Procedures provide that: “The Conference shall endeavor to provide at least two weeks’ notice of all meetings.” However, we received only 11 days’ notice that an election would take place on April 28. The notice moreover provided no information as to the time of the meeting and thus was not proper notice. Further, the belated notice did not provide members with adequate time to put forth alternate candidates.

Regarding recommendation D), the COP Nominating Committee’s announcement of Ms. Lob’s nomination admitted that the committee reviewed “a remarkable group of impressive candidates,” and that “Committee members believed that each would have served with distinction.” These alternate candidates should be permitted to stand for this election.

Thank you.

Sincerely,

Morton A. Klein

Morton A. Klein is the national president of the Zionist Organization of America.