By Dave Schechter
(October 12, 2021 / Atlanta Jewish Times) Atlanta attorney David Schoen has been elected chairman of the Zionist Organization of America, a 124-year-old group known for its blunt — and unapologetic — support of Israel.
Schoen, 62, will serve a three-year term guiding the organization on whose board he has served for 20 years. He helped found ZOA’s Center for Law and Justice and serves on its advisory board.
“It’s a whole new chapter for me,” Schoen told the AJT.
In a statement, ZOA national president, Morton Klein, said of Schoen: “His life revolves around family, Judaism, Israel, and the law. His dynamism, energy, knowledge, intellect, relationships in the legal, Jewish, political and Israel worlds, and his great work ethic will help propel ZOA to new heights.”
Established in 1897, ZOA was one of the early Zionist organizations in the United States. The organization is listed as a tax-exempt nonprofit under the Internal Revenue Service code.
ZOA has been praised by supporters and criticized by detractors for its sometimes pugnacious public stance. “ZOA has highlighted it when other Jewish groups haven’t been strong enough in their advocacy or pure enough in their advocacy for Israel,” Schoen said. “They’re always pigeon-holed as a right wing organization. I don’t like those labels anyway. They call the facts as they see them, even if they’re controversial.”
That is an approach that Schoen understands. “I’m disappointed in one factor for myself and my family,” Schoen said when asked about his role in the February 2021 second impeachment trial of then-President Donald J. Trump. Schoen voiced dismay that much of the reporting of his election as ZOA chairman reduced his 36-year legal career to his representation of Trump and his conversations with Jeffrey Epstein before the latter’s death in federal custody in New York while awaiting trial on sex-trafficking charges.
Though he lives in Atlanta, Schoen’s law practice, centered on civil rights and federal criminal defense cases, is based in Montgomery, Ala., and New York City. He received his Juris Doctor from the Boston College School of Law and a Master of Laws from the Columbia University Law School.
In 1995, Schoen was a recipient of the American Bar Association’s Pro Bono Publico (a Latin phrase meaning “for the good of the public”) Award, presented annually “to individual lawyers and institutions in the legal profession that have demonstrated outstanding commitment to volunteer legal services for the poor and disadvantaged.” Schoen was honored for his work in the South, in cases involving jails and prisons, indigent defense, and other issues.
Schoen is an Orthodox Jew who worships at Congregation Beth Jacob and Congregation Ohr HaTorah. In 2018, he gave the AJT this self-description: “On many social and domestic issues, I am characterized as being on the left; on issues involving Israel, I am characterized as being on the right. My position on all issues is based on principles that I can defend using my understanding of the Constitution.”
Reflecting on his defense of Trump before the U.S. Senate — which he described as “an interesting experience” — Schoen said, “I would do it again because I do believe that strongly in the constitutional principles underlying” the case.
Schoen said that he was “really honored” by the response from other observant Jews to his appearing on the Senate floor wearing a kippah and his placing his hand over his head and saying a silent prayer before taking drinks of water. Those actions “at least made a difference to some people who felt limited at work in exploring their religious observance,” he said.
Schoen also has represented the families of American terrorism victims seeking compensation in litigation against the Palestine Liberation Organization and the Palestinian Authority, on behalf of the Israeli non-governmental organization Shurat Ha’Din-Israel Law Center.
Assessing U.S.-Israel relations, Schoen said: “I think that over the past four years we’ve seen some unprecedented steps that have been helpful to Israel and, frankly, to the world,” citing in particular the Abraham Accords that began with Israel normalizing diplomatic relations with the United Arab Emirates and Bahrain in September 2020. Israel later normalized its relations with Sudan in October 2020 and Morocco in December 2020.
Though “the rhetoric thus far is that Israel is and will remain a staunch [U.S.] ally,” Schoen said that he remains “very concerned about what I see from what I call the hate squad in Congress. There seems to be an acceptance of repeated anti-Semitic comments that they would turn into policy.”
The “they” to whom Schoen referred are a segment of Democratic members in the U.S. House. “They call themselves progressive. I call them regressive,” he said, contrasting the rejection of former Georgia Democratic congresswoman Cynthia McKinney’s anti-Jewish rhetoric with the perceived tolerance of the Democratic leadership to its progressive wing.
ZOA also re-elected Klein as national president. “He’s absolutely filled with passion for the state of Israel and the Jewish people. That comes across when he speaks,” Schoen said of Klein. He added, “In my view he speaks from the heart and doesn’t speak unless he has the facts in hand.”
This article was originally published in Atlanta Jewish Times and can be viewed here.