Mort Klein, who has served for nearly three decades as head of the Zionist Organization of America, has achieved a name recognition in the Jewish world that goes beyond the United States.
Klein has been in the news recently for his outspoken opposition to Black Lives Matter, his conflicts with liberal Jewish leaders and even for a chat with rapper Ice Cube.
He sat down for an interview with World Israel News.
Q: You recently had a conversation with rapper Ice Cube and you said afterwards that he wasn’t an anti-Semite even though he said he supports Louis Farrakhan. What did Ice Cube say to you in that conversation that made you defend him publicly?
“If you know me, I will not tolerate even hints of anti-Semitism or Israel bashing.
“I have a 27-year record of non-appeasement. I talked to Ice Cube for almost two hours, and I asked him about him saying positive things about Farrakhan. He said, ‘We need people in the black community speaking about self-empowerment, staying off drugs, no violence, stay with your spouse, stay in school, study and work hard.’
“He rejected [Farrakhan’s] anti-Semitism. I asked him if we can put out something formally saying exactly that. He said he would seriously consider it. Then, I asked him about condemning Kareem Abdul-Jabbar. I said, ‘You criticized him for putting out this article condemning black anti-Semites.’ He said, ‘No, man. I was angry at him for including me in the list of anti-Semites.’ I said, ‘But you didn’t say that.’ He said, ‘I didn’t say it well.’
“He put out another tweet saying that he supports Abdul-Jabbar doing the right thing by condemning anti-Semites, but that he [Ice Cube] should not have been included. At my request, he put out a tweet saying, ‘I hate anti-Semites. I hate anti-Semitism.’”
Q: Just because someone says they aren’t an anti-Semite doesn’t mean they aren’t though. What was your biggest takeaway from that conversation?
“I’m well-aware of this sort of thing. But he put out those tweets, and then, he put out a tweet saying he supports Israel’s right to exist as a Jewish state.
“He said that when I come out to Los Angeles, he wants me to meet his wife. He’s been married for 28 years and has four kids. He wants to take me out to dinner. When he comes to New York, he wants to take me out to dinner, although I live in Philadelphia. He said, ‘I want to meet your family. I want to come to your [ZOA] dinner, and I want to buy a couple of tables at your dinner.’ He gave me his cell number and said to call him anytime I want. He said, ‘I want to do anything I can to create more of an alliance between blacks and Jews, because we should have an alliance.’
“I met his partner and his manager, who is a Zionist Jew. He also said to me, ‘Mort, I’ve been working with the guy for 25 years and there’s not a hint of anti-Semitism.’ I also saw a note from Jeff Shell, the head of NBCUniversal, saying that it’s horrible people are calling you [Ice Cube] an anti-Semite. Those who know you know it’s ridiculous. Look, he has a Jewish manager and the guy on NBC spoke on his behalf.
“The fact that he put out tweets on his own to call out black anti-Semites and support Israel’s right to exist as a Jewish state — not too many people will say they support Israel’s right to exist as a Jewish state — he told me I can tell any journalist I want that he supports Israel’s right to exist as a Jewish state.
“I have a strong sense that there was not a hint of anti-Semitism in my conversation with him. I recognize it’s only one conversation, but it was almost two hours. Based on that and what other people who know him well have told me, I don’t think he’s an anti-Semite. If he puts out anything with a hint of anti-Semitism, I will publicly attack him.”
Q: You have criticized the Black Lives Matter movement as “a Jew hating, White hating, Israel hating, conservative black hating, violence promoting, dangerous Soros-funded extremist group of haters.” Can you explain what about the group makes it anti-Semitic and anti-Israel?
“The first thing I did was read their platform. Their platform calls Israel an apartheid, genocidal state committing genocide against Arabs, which is an incredibly insane statement. There were 200,000 Arabs in Israel in 1948 and today, there’s more than 1.75 million. Whoever is running this genocidal program needs to be fired immediately because it isn’t working.
“They say cut all aid to Israel. They blame Israeli police training American police to target blacks. Some of their leaders wear shirts with ‘PFLP’ [Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine] on it, a terrorist group. One of their leaders said, ‘Zionism, at its core, is white supremacy. At rallies led by BLM leaders, people are screaming, ‘Death to Israel. Death to America.’”
Q: Why do you think the group concerns itself with Israel and BDS? It has nothing to do with what they claim is their mission.
“The only countries they condemn are America and Israel, not Iran, Sudan, Somalia, Libya, Syria, etc. Their leaders — they say it openly — are communists and Marxists. They would like America to be a communist country. Anti-Semites only condemn Israel and no other country because they’re Jew haters.
“Why did the Black Lives Matter leaders become anti-Semites? Well, why does anyone become an anti-Semite? It’s irrational. I do know a group of Black Lives Matter leaders went to Israel and the Palestinian territories to meet the PFLP and other terrorist leaders. Another thing they scream is that Israel stole Arab land. Why anybody becomes a hater of Jews is to not be understood.”
Q: Critics at the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations condemned you after your remarks about BLM. Rabbi Rick Jacobs of the United Reform Movement was particularly vocal.
“So 16 Jewish leaders, including Rabbi Jacobs of the Reform Movement, Rabbi Jacob Blumenthal of the Conservative Movement, the head of HIAS Robert Aronson, the Jewish women’s groups, Ken Bob of Ameinu and Peace Now condemned me as promoting hate because I condemned Black Lives Matter as anti-Semitic.
“They didn’t call for me to be thrown out of the conference, but the New Israel Fund did with JStreet, IfNotNow and JVP. None of them are in the Conference of Presidents. They’re extreme anti-Israel groups. No one filed a formal complaint or demand. Rabbi Jacobs did publicly call me a ‘racist’ and an ‘Islamophobe.’”
Q: Why do you think they feel this way?
“None of them explained why what I said about Black Lives Matter is wrong. When I asked Ken Bob, who led this, why are you saying this to me? He said, ‘This is not the time to talk about anti-Semitism. This is the time to talk about black rights.’ I said, ‘Ken, it’s always the time to talk about anti-Semitism because it’s dangerous.’ Alan Dershowitz went on television and called them anti-Semitic, and ‘I’ll defend Mort Klein politically and legally.’ I’ve been defended in articles by Caroline Glick, Melanie Phillips, Ruthie Blum and others.”
Q: You mentioned HIAS, which used to be called the Hebrew Immigrant Aid Society, but it dropped the “Hebrew” from its name. Their leadership said they’re helping all refugees now. Do you think they should still be considered a Jewish organization?
“If they’re bringing unvetted people from countries like Syria, where you can’t vet them and don’t know their backgrounds, this is not safe. The ADL’s own polls show that 74-to-90 percent of Muslims from the Middle East, such as Syria, Iraq and Iran, are anti-Semitic. That means they’re helping resettle anti-Semites and Israel haters in America. They should not be considered a Jewish organization. Ninety-nine percent of the refugees they bring to resettle in America are not Jewish. A high proportion of them are anti-Semitic Muslims. One percent of the immigrants they help resettle are Jews.
“They have no right to call themselves the global Jewish refugee group. Mark Hetfield is the director of HIAS and he isn’t Jewish himself. He falsely stated that 100 percent of my board is Jewish, and that’s not true.”
Q: In your opinion, are all major U.S. Jewish groups in the hands of left-wing Jews?
“Look, most Jews are liberals. Eighty percent of Jews voted for [Barack] Obama. Naturally, almost all Jewish organizations are headed by liberals because that’s who Jews are.”
Q: Is it frustrating to have your membership challenged after fighting for Israel and Jews for so long as president of the ZOA?
“Yes, and what’s upsetting to me is when heads of Jewish organizations call me a promoter of hatred and spread lies about me. If I’m criticized for something I do or say, that’s fine. But I’m criticized with lies that I’m against peace, I’m a warmonger, I hate blacks or Muslims. Almost every criticism of me or the ZOA is a falsehood. I don’t mind criticism based on what I do or say because I’m proud of what I say. They called me a warmonger when I opposed Oslo because I said [Yasser] Arafat is still a terrorist. Of course I’m not a warmonger and against peace.
“When I was against the Gaza withdrawal, they called me a warmonger against peace. I said, ‘This will lead to Hamas rockets.’ Of course, I was right about both situations. It bothers me that, too frequently, Jewish leaders want to appease our enemies.
“Jewish leaders right now should be blasting [PA President Mahmoud] Abbas as a terrorist dictator, who pays Arabs to murder Jews with pay to slay; name schools, streets, sports teams and camps after Jew killers; refuses to negotiate; and says he’ll never allow a Jew to live in a future Palestinian state. Why aren’t these leaders condemning him?”
Q: Last week, there was a Knesset hearing on social media anti-Semitism which revealed that Twitter is putting warning labels on Trump tweets and not on genocidal tweets from Iran’s supreme leader? Does Twitter’s policy surprise you?
“It’s appalling, especially in this age of rising hatred and anti-Semitism, for them to allow Khomeini to be tweeting out they must destroy Israel. Not only don’t they put a warning on it, but they shouldn’t allow him to tweet saying that Israel must be destroyed. Twitter is acting irresponsibly.”
Q: Do you think there’s a double standard on social media when it comes to anti-Semitism?
“In general, it seems Twitter is very sensitive to hatred against black people, gay people, Muslims and is totally insensitive to hatred against Jews. It’s not a double standard. There’s no standard. Khomeini says something awful and they let it pass. It seems clear they’re not only not sensitive to Jew hatred, but they’re closing their eyes and allowing it to flourish on Twitter.”
Q: What are your thoughts on Ilhan Omar and Rashida Tlaib? Would you say they are dangerous for Jews who live in America?
“They’re open anti-Semites and Israel haters. They praised Rasmea Odeh, a convicted murderer of Jews, and Farrakhan. Omar said “Jewish money” is the reason people in Congress support Israel. Omar supports lesser sentences for ISIS terrorists. They support cutting Israel’s aid and they support BDS publicly. These people are unvarnished Jew haters and Israel haters. This is very frightening.”
Q: Do you feel like you’re often the lone wolf with some of the things you support?
“Yes. Almost all of them supported Oslo, the Gaza withdrawal, Arafat and Abbas and they support a Palestinian state while we oppose one because it would be a terrorist state. We are, unfortunately, usually alone when telling the truth about the Arab war against Israel.”
Q: How does that shape the future of the ZOA on university campuses?
“We educate students, bring in speakers and we have literature we disseminate to educate students how to answer the questions on campus about the claim Israel steals land or not offering a state. One of the things we tell them is Israel offered a Palestinian state three times in the last 20 years, and they turned it down each time. They’ve been offered a state eight times in the last 80 years from 1937 on and they turned it down.
“We teach them about anti-Semitism and how to defend themselves from the terrible lies they hear on campus. I don’t think anyone is as strong as us on campus.”
Q: If Joe Biden is elected as president, what do you think his policy would be towards Israel?
“I have known Joe Biden for 25 years and he spoke as the keynote at one of my dinners 15 years ago. He said he wants Israel to stop building in Judea and Samaria. He says nothing about the pay to slay program, and said Israel shouldn’t dare declare sovereignty over 30 percent of Judea and Samaria, even though you have half a million Jews living there. I’m very unhappy with the policy pronouncements of Joe Biden.”
Q: Of the negative trends that you see, what do you think is the greatest threat to Israel and the Jewish people?
“Iran is the greatest threat to Israel because they continue moving forward to create nuclear weapons in order to hit Israel. I believe they’re sincere and want to drop atomic bombs on Israel.
“The next biggest threat to Israel is the demonization of Israel, and it’s dangerous to Israel and Jews. It’s an attack on all Jews. There’s a dramatic rise in anti-Semitism and there’s a large number of members of Congress who are open anti-Semites.”
Q: What’s a good trend that you see?
“Israel is a powerful country with a tremendous economy. It’s one of the top-three high-tech countries in the world. They’re strong militarily and economically. Jews in America, if they have the ability, need to get members of Congress to act against anti-Semitism. The facts are on our side. The greatest thing is, during the Holocaust, we didn’t have a powerful Jewish country with an army and a great economy. We have that now.”
The original interview was published by World Israel News and can be found here.