The Zionist Organization of America (ZOA), founded in 1897, was one of the first official Zionist organizations in the United States, and, especially early in the 20th century, the primary representative of Jewish Americans to the World Zionist Organization, espousing primarily Political Zionism.
Today, the ZOA continues to exist as a prominent pro-Israel group in the United States, with 30,000 current members.The ZOA was initially founded in 1896 as the Federation of American Zionists (FAZ), an amalgam of
Hebrew societies, Chovevei Zionists and Jewish nationalist clubs that all endorsed the Basle programme. The FAZ was established at a Baltimore conference where the constitution was adopted by the delegates with Richard Gottheil elected as president and Stephen S Wise as honorary secretary. The ZOA was founded to support the founding of the 'Jewish National Home in Palestine'. Along with its sister organization Hadassah, the Women's Zionist Organization of America, and the Labor Zionist Po'ale Zion parties, and the Religious Zionist Mizrachi, the ZOA served as one of the key voices in early American Zionism. Their voice was limited however, since most American Jews and the organized American Jewish Committee were initially strong opponents of the Zionist movement, and worried, with their assimilationist views, about charges of ‘dual loyalty’, a common antisemitic canard. The demographics of Jewish Americans were changing rapidly around the turn of the 20th century and by 1920 and the Jewish population of America had increased by over ten times.
When the secular “people’s lawyer” Louis Brandeis became involved in the movement in 1912, just before the First World War, Zionism started gaining significant support. By 1917, Brandeis' leadership had increased American Zionist membership ten times to 200,000 members, and “thenceforth became the financial center for the world Zionist movement,” greatly surpassing its previous European base of support. In addition early in the war years, he and others established the American Provisional Executive Committee for General Zionist Affairs, to run Zionist affairs on behalf of the worldwide Zionist Organization, which had been rendered largely impotent because its members were divided by allegiance to the different sides in the conflict.
The Zionist Organization of America was instrumental in mobilizing the support of the U.S. government, Congress, and the American public for the creation of Israel in 1948.
Former ZOA presidents of the period included Louis D. Brandeis, Louis Lipsky, Daniel Frisch, Rabbi Wise, and Rabbi Abba Hillel Silver.
In 1949 the FBI investigated the ZOA under the 1938 Foreign Agents Registration Act after the organization solicited supporters to accelerate technology transfers to Jews in Palestine. On February 25, 1948 the ZOA was ordered to register as a foreign agent. After a series of conferences with the US Attorney General, the ZOA changed its constitution and "affected a change in the constitution of the World Zionist Organization in an effort to remove itself from agency status. As a result all attempts to procure the registration of the subject organization were dropped."
Following the founding of Israel, and to unify Jewish representation with the executive branch of US government, the ZOA became a charter member of the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations.
Israeli stamp issued toward inauguration of Z.O.A. House in Tel Aviv
The ZOA received a mixed compliment following the 2005 election of Ed Ames, a "personality from the entertainment industry" as president of its Los Angeles branch. The article states: "Founded in 1896, ZOA had been in decline from its heydays under the leadership of Louis Brandeis and Rabbi Abba Hillel Silver, but has regained some prominence since the energetic and vocal Klein assumed the presidency 10 years ago.".
As of 2005, the organization has a national membership of over 50,000. There are active chapters throughout the United States, including Boston, Chicago, Cleveland, Columbus, Dallas, Detroit, Los Angeles, Miami, Milwaukee, North Jersey, Philadelphia, Pittsburgh, South Jersey and Washington, D.C., and Youngstown.
The ZOA today works to strengthen U.S.-Israel relations through educational activities, by combating what it perceives as anti-Israel bias in the media, textbooks, travel guides, and on college campuses. The ZOA's Law and Justice Department has also been at the forefront of legal efforts to combat campus anti-Semitism.
The ZOA also sponsors educational and cultural programs in Israel. The "ZOA House" is a noted cultural center in Tel Aviv. The ZOA is responsible for founding the Kfar Silver school, which provides education and vocational training for new Jewish immigrants and others on a 500-acre (2.0 km2) campus near Ashkelon. The ZOA's youth division sponsors one of the largest programs for sending young Jews to visit Israel.
The president of the ZOA is Morton Klein. Its executive director is Gary Ratner.
The ZOA was strongly opposed to Israel's decision to withdraw from the Gaza Strip in 2005. In January 2009, the ZOA issued a statement calling on supporters of the withdrawal to apologize, stating that the "past three years of rapid security deterioration in the southern part of Israel," and that "in these circumstances, it is high time for all MKs, journalists and others, regardless of party affiliation, who supported the process of unilateral withdrawal to apologize to the Israeli electorate.
In January 2009, the ZOA expressed concern about President Barack Obama's selection of George J. Mitchell as an envoy to the Middle East. The ZOA criticized Mitchell because he "believes both sides are equally at fault" and that "settlements are the main problem, not the Palestinian people' refusal to end terrorism." The ZOA also stated that "George Mitchell’s success with the IRA-British problem doesn’t translate to success with the Palestinian struggle against Israeli military occupation. However extreme and murderous the IRA was, the goal was not the destruction of Britain and extermination of its people. They wanted only to remove Northern Ireland from British rule. By contrast, the goal of Hamas and the Palestinian nationalist movement is Israel’s destruction and the murder of Jews, not merely the creation of a Palestinian Arab state next to it."
ZOA was explicitly opposed to the selection of Charles W. Freeman, Jr. as Chairman of the National intelligence Council in February, 2009. He withdrew from the post on March 10, 2009.
In late March 2009, ZOA activists urged the United States Congress to tighten sanctions on Iran and place conditions on U.S. aid to the Palestinians. The ZOA stated that Congress should make the Palestinians comply with commitments to "end incitement and arrest terrorists" before receiving the $900 million in financial assistance that the United States has pledged. However, the ZOA reportedly faced opposition from AIPAC, which had called for the aid to be distributed without these additional conditions. The ZOA activists also expressed support for legislation to enhance transparency for U.S. funds that go to the United Nations Relief and Works Agency (UNRWA) for Palestinian refugees and for a bill that withdraws funding for the 2009 Durban Review Conference.
The Zionist Organization of America (ZOA) was the subject of FBI/Justice Department investigations in 1948, 1954 and 1970 to determine whether its activities required registration as an agent for Israel under the 1938 Foreign Agent Registration Act (FARA). On February 25, 1948 the US Department of Justice (DOJ) asked the ZOA to begin registering and to disclose funding flows and relationships with the World Zionist Organization. Although the ZOA initially agreed to register, it later orchestrated a change in not only its own corporate organizing documents—but the constitution of the World Zionist Organization—in order to avoid regulation under the Act. However FBI and DOJ interest in the ZOA continued, spurred by news reports and citizen complaints.
The ZOA's early refusal to comply with FARA may have served as an example for other Israel lobbyists and organizations. In 1951, AIPAC founder Isaiah L. Kenen ignored a DOJ order to continue registering after he left his job under the Israeli Ministry of Foreign Affairs. In 1962 the AZC (of which ZOA was a constituent organization) reconstituted by incorporating its lobbying group, the American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC), six weeks after a FARA order. In 1971 the Jewish Agency's American Section reconstituted itself after public revelations of its direct control by the Israeli government via a secret Covenant Agreement. On 9/21/1971 the Jewish Agency simply re-registered as another foreign agent, the "World Zionist Organization - American Section" claiming no Israeli government ties—and placing itself alongside the ZOA under the WZO. This reveals the "Rubik's Cube" properties of major Israel lobbying organizations—which shift corporate shells and organizing documents to appear to meet statutory requirements event as US activities in coordination with the Israeli government continue unabated.
The following archive traces FBI/DOJ investigations of the ZOA from 1942-
|ZOApt1.pdf||2.4 MB||FBI news clippings from 5/14/1974, 10/21/1942; 9/20/1943 cable on ZOA Aliyah program, 11/18/1943 ZOA meeting summary "Dr. Holler, chairman of the Administrative Committee of the Zionist Organization of America, devoted the greater part of his address to a defense of the Zionist movement, and was particularly emphatic in denying charges brought against Zionists by representatives of the American Council for Judaism." 1/8/1948 memo about possible ZOA violations of the Neutrality Act and notification of the DOJ Criminal Division, "Ordinarily, we would initiate Neutrality Act inquiries without prior referral to and approval of the Criminal Division, but in view of the delicacy of the current Palestine situation, and of the concern recently expressed by the Director relative to certain of the Bureau activity in this general field, it is felt that prior to the initiation of investigation, we should put such matters...up to the Department for advice." 3/29/1948 FBI memo, The ZOA Milwaukee Branch, "has been holding various meetings in Milwaukee for the raising of funds for the assistance of the Jews colonizing Palestine. Similar meetings being held throughout the U.S. Members stated funds to be used for purchase of clothing, food and agricultural equipment and not for purchase of arms or ammunition." Undated FBI bulletin to the Washington Field Division, "Will ascertain if the ZOA is presently registered with the Attorney General pursuant to the terms of the Registration Act...Will also attempt to ascertain if the organization is registered with any department of the U.S. Government relative to the transmittal of funds for relief purposes to Palestine and as to whether any account of the funds and/or relief goods is made to this agency."|
|ZOApt2.pdf||1.3 MB||5/5/1948 SAC NY to FBI director memo, "It does
not appear that there is a direct connection between the Zionist
Organization of American and the organizations concerning which
investigations are being conducted." 5/28/1948 FBI
Director memo to SAC NY, "Under date of May 12, 1948, Mr. T.
Vincent Quinn, Criminal Division, Department of Justice,
addressed a memorandum to this Bureau concerning the Zionist
Organization of America in which he advised that no violation of
any federal statute has been indicated by the investigation
undertaken to date by our Milwaukee Office. Mr. Quinn
stated that in view of this it would appear that no further
investigation is warranted at this time."
12/29/1948 FBI memo, "the Bureau received through liaison
channels from the Intelligence Division, Department of Army, a
confidential memorandum requesting information concerning the
four captioned Jewish Organizations [ZOA, Joint Distribution
Committee, Materials for Palestine, Great Circle Air
Freighters]" 3/14/1949 SAC San Francisco memo to the FBI
Director, "...recently called to my attention the Public
Relations News Letter...below indicating that the Economics
Affairs Commission of the Zionist Organization of
America....desires to transmit to the new Israeli nation's
Department of industry certain up-to-date information concerning
9/16/1949 Washington Post letter to the editor,
"I have just read the latest press release made by Daniel
Frisch, president of the Zionist Organization of America.
It has never been possible to take Mr. Frish, his predecessors,
or the ZOA lightly, but this latest message to the American
Jewish community makes rather grave statements and accusations
which bear remarking by legislative and judicial bodies in this
country. Mr. Frisch makes the following statement:
'The Arabs in the Middle East, their friends in London and Washington, are poised for a powerful two-pronged drive against Israel in an offensive to force Israel's hand in the Arab refugee question...At this grave hour, Israel turns once again to American Jewry for moral and political aid in the battle against the sinister and powerful forces that would wreck the new state...As the active conscience of American Jewish identification with Israel, the ZOA has its destined role and task.'
"Close examination of these statements plus investigation of ZOA activities, present and past, easily leads to the conclusion that the ZOA is the agent of a foreign state, acting in its interests, and as such should be registered with the Justice Department or under the legislation affecting lobbies in the United States."
FBI memo concludes, "The Bureau desires to refer this matter to the Criminal Division of the Department of Justice for an opinion concerning the obligations of the ZOA to register as an agent of a foreign principal."
|ZOApt3.pdf||5.2 MB||News clippings.|
|ZOApt4.pdf||4.8 MB||News clippings.|
|ZOApt5.pdf||2.9 MB||News clippings. 10/28/1949 FBI Director
memo to Assistant Attorney General Alexander Campbell, "You will
recall that from time to time this Bureau has furnished the
Criminal Division with information that has come to our
attention concerning the captioned organization...It would be
appreciated if you would advise this Bureau whether the attached
material contains any information which in your opinion
indicates that the Zionist Organization of America or its
officers are engaged in activities which may be in contravention
of the Foreign Agents Registration Act or any other federal
statutes." 11/30/1949 FBI Director memo to SAC NY, "On
November 8, 1949, Mr. Campbell [AAG] advised that the conclusion
had been reached that the activities of the subject [ZOA] and
its officers are not in contravention of the Registration Act."
9/22/1951 FBI Director memo, "The Washington
Field checked the records of the Foreign Agents Registration
Section, Department of Justice, on April 6, 1948, in connection
with the above investigation and ascertained that the ZOA was
not registered. The Department file reflected, however,
that under date of February 25, 1948, a letter together with the
necessary forms were directed...to the ZOA by the Department
advising him that pursuant to an agreement reached with Rabbi
Schulson of the ZOA, the organization was requested to comply
with the requirements of the Registration Act and to submit
registration statements. Reports, which included the above
information regarding the agreement of the ZOA to register, were
sent to the Department on May 3, 1948, with a request that the
Bureau be advised what further investigation should be
undertaken and whether the facts developed indicated a violation
of any Federal Statute. The Department replied on May 12,
1948, that no violation of any Federal Statute was indicated by
the reports and that no further investigation of this specific
matter would appear to be warranted...On October 28, 1949, a
memorandum was sent to the Criminal Division...In reply dated
November 8, 1949, the Department advised in part as follows:
'As you know, the obligations of the subject organization under the terms of the Foreign Agents Registration Act have been a subject of study and consideration by the Foreign Agents Registration Section for the past several years. In April of 1947 a comprehensive memorandum was prepared by that Section outlining in considerable detail the activities and relationships of the subject in connection with the World Zionist Organization. As a result of this memorandum, a letter was transmitted to the subject again soliciting its registration under the Act. This letter resulted in a series of conferences being held between representatives of the Attorney General's office and representatives of the subject. As a result of these conferences the subject organization materially changed its constitution and at the same time effected a change in the constitution of the World Zionist Organization in an effort to remove itself from its agency status. As a result, all attempts to procure registration of the subject organization were dropped.'The Department further concluded that the activities of the ZOA and its officers were not in contravention of the Foreign Agents Registration Act and stated that no specific investigation was being requested at that time.
You will recall that Mr. Nathan B. Lenvin of the Department advised our Washington Field Office Agent in confidence that the ZOA brought about a minor change in its constitution so that it might state it was no longer the agent of a foreign principal. As noted above, the Department stated the ZOA materially changed its constitution and at the same time affected a change in the constitution of the World Zionist Organization. The Department has not advised the Bureau of the nature of the changes made in the constitution of these Zionist groups."
Citizen letters to FBI about the ZOA.
Memos about investigations to determine whether ZOA actions are directed by State of Israel.
|ZOApt6.pdf||2.7 MB||April 1, 1954 SAC LA memo to FBI director about
the ZOA and Registration Act, "It will be noted that some of the
information included in the insert reflects that I.L. Kenen was an official of the Israeli Office of Information at New York City, while other information set forth in the
insert show the he was an employee of the American Zionist
Council in Washington, DC....it is unknown whether Kenen terminated his
position....or whether he retains both positions at the present
time."FBI file on reorganization and
interrelationships of the Jewish Agency, World Zionist
Executive, Israeli government and the ZOA.
May 3, 1954 Memo to FBI Director from LA SAC that evidence of ZOA activities could not be publicly divulged since it would burn sources and methods. "Inasmuch as the information contained herein does not show such control or direction and insamuch as the information could never be divulged in any legal action in view of the delicate source of this material, it is suggest that the Bureau may not wish to disseminate the report..."
|ZOApt7.pdf||4.7 MB||News clippings and citizen letters about ZOA activities. 2/26/1969 letter from J. Walter Yeagley to FBI director authorizing interviews over ZOA ads in the Washington Post against Soviet peace initiatives in the Middle East. "This Division would like to receive any information that you might have available on the subject. In addition, this Division would appreciate any information that can be developed as to the subjects activities within the United States and whether the subject is receiving funds from any foreign principal, including the Government of Israel."|
|ZOApt8.pdf||3.5 MB||FBI-DOJ correspondence on previous FARA investigations, 11/20/1969 investigation of materials claiming Dr. Henry Kissinger pledged $20,000 to the ZOA, news clipping, "Zionist Pledge is Forgery, Kissinger Says," FD-302 interview with a ZOA executive, promise to send organizational constitution and bylaws for DOJ review.|
|ZOApt9.pdf||5.2 MB||1968 bylaws of the ZOA (illegible)|
|ZOApt10.pdf||3.5 MB||1968 bylaws of the ZOA
(illegible) 6/8/1970 Action newspaper article about foreign
agent activities in the US, "Zionist Role in U.S. Raises New
Concern" by Lawrence Mosher. Discusses the Jewish Agency's
Covenant with the Israeli government.
10/2/1970 memo from J. Walter Yeagley memo to FBI
director, "We have no further requests of your Bureau at this
time with respect to the ZOA."
1/21/1976 ZOA letter to FBI Director Clarence M. Kelly congratulating him on statements against terrorism and requesting reprint rights for 3,500 copies Kelly's "Terrorism - The Ultimate Evil."
|In 1971 the Jewish Agency's American Section reconstitutes itself after public revelations of its direct control by the Israeli government via a Covenant Agreement. On 9/21/1971 the Jewish Agency re-registers as another foreign agent, the "World Zionist Organization - American Section" claiming no Israeli government ties. The Justice Department deems the reconstitution as "sketchy." The Jewish Agency's reconstitution into a subsidiary of the WZO, an offshore organization under enough ZOA control for ZOA to effect constitutional changes in 1948, reveals the "Rubik's cube" nature of major Israel lobbying organizations. Paper transactions and shifting corporate shells are effected to avoid US Department of Justice FARA regulation while the activities and control relationships continue unabated.|
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