The Unlikely Rise of Mort Klein and the Transformation of American Zionism - 2019-04-10
With the election of Donald Trump, Klein's fortunes turned. The ZOA fostered close contacts with Trump's circle at a relatively early point in the 2016 presidential campaign and then became the first Jewish organization to be granted a publicly announced meeting with a senior Trump administration official, leaving its more propriety-seeking rivals out in the cold. In a city where closeness to power is the most sought-after form of currency, Mort Klein was suddenly rich—and the establishment rivals who had sneered at him for 25 years were suddenly poor.
The ZOA receives a reliable $1 million a year from Republican kingmaker Sheldon Adelson, often accounting for between 1/5th and 1/6th of the group's annual income. In February, leading Republicans Rand Paul and Tom Cotton tweeted photos with Klein in their Washington offices. Arthur Schwartz, recently described as a key pro-Trump Republican operative and messaging specialist, is a ZOA adviser and confidante. Former White House counselor Steve Bannon spoke at the ZOA's 2017 gala dinner; in 2018, the headliner was Trump National Security Adviser John Bolton. In the wake of the conference's"written warning" to the ZOA, Rand Paul tweeted in the organization's defense, fretting that "some are being unfairly critical of Mort Klein," who the senator lauded for his "character, civility, and effectiveness in defending Israel."
There are plenty of pro-Israel organizations in the U.S. with specific roles within a larger ecosystem—AIPAC lobbies Congress; the Israeli-American Council organizes the country's Israeli immigrants, Christians United for Israel secures support in evangelical communities. But the ZOA grew out of a time when Zionism was something more than just a political ideology.