ZOA Chief: Don’t Accept Syrian Refugees 'Because They Hate Israel and Jews’

Annual gala of Zionist Organization of America, featuring Sheldon Adelson, breaks into wild applause over far-right views and the prospect of a Republican president.

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Mort Klein, standing, addressing the awards dinner. Sheldon and Dr. Miriam Adelson are seated to his right.
Mort Klein, standing, addressing the awards dinner. Sheldon and Dr. Miriam Adelson are seated to his right.Credit: J. Savitsky

NEW YORK – The United States should not accept any Syrian refugees, Zionist Organization of America president Mort Klein told attendees at a gala banquet here Sunday night, adding that many of them hate Jews and Israel. In addition, he said, parents and siblings of terrorists should be deported unless they publicly condemn, in Hebrew and Arabic, the acts of their family member. Klein was speaking to an audience of more than 1,000 people at the 2015 Justice Louis D. Brandeis Award Dinner, held at Manhattan’s Grand Hyatt hotel.

“Don’t bring these refugees here. Treat as pariahs all those who promote radical Islam. ... We must crush radical Islam as we crushed Nazism,” Klein said.

Attendees greeted both of Klein’s proposals with wild applause. It was one of several moments of right-wing ideology met by popular — though perhaps, given the $700 per person ticket price, not populist — acclaim.

“I don’t even know the legalities of it,” Klein told Haaretz after the dinner, of the deportation proposal. “I am so frustrated by the horror, the terror almost every day. The streets of Israel are empty, stores are 80 percent down in sales, people aren’t going to the Kotel. This is terrible. We can’t allow them to destroy Israel’s society,” he said, adding that ZOA’s board had not yet approved his idea but he expected it to do so at a meeting later this week. “These are extraordinary times and we need extraordinary measures.”

At the event, which was billed as “ZOA’s Superstar Gala,” actor Jon Voight received the Dr. Miriam & Sheldon Adelson Defender of Israel Award and Israeli Ambassador to the United States Ron Dermer was given the ZOA’s Dr. Bob Shillman Award for Outstanding Diplomacy.

Dermer, in his remarks, called on world governments to wage war against militant Islam and castigated them for not coming to Israel’s defense during the current round of terrorist attacks. “In the past few weeks, 19 Israelis have been killed and some 200 have been wounded in terror attacks. ... But rather than support Israel ... we hear outrageous statements about a cycle of violence and the need for both sides to act with restraint.”

“Israel stands on the front lines of this great battle ... the international community only blames Israel, libels Israel. ... Whether or not the world stands with us, we will not be defeated,” Dermer said. “The Jewish people are no longer a stateless, voiceless, powerless people. Today the Jewish people defend themselves,” he said to enthusiastic applause.

Klein, speaking after Dermer, added, “we of ZOA will never be the ‘sha shtil’ [be quiet] Jews of before.”

Klein was born in a displaced persons camp in Germany to parents who survived the Holocaust. He was 4 when the family immigrated to Philadelphia, and spoke only Yiddish, he told Haaretz. Asked whether he does not feel, particularly in light of his own background, that there is an ethical imperative for the United States to take in refugees, he said: “As a Jew and as a Zionist, why should I want people who hate me to come to America? Especially when a small chunk might commit terrorist acts against my fellow Americans. It’s perfectly rational. No question most of them are not terrorists, but most hate Jews and Israel.

“There are 50 Muslim-majority countries, most of them near Syria. They should be going there. Saudi Arabia hasn’t taken a single Syrian refugee. They should be taking their coreligionists. If there was an Israel during the Holocaust, the Jews would have gone there. They have 50 Muslim Israels.”

Voight, dapper in a tuxedo and fringed yellow scarf, gave a disquisition on Middle East history and made clear that he is a supporter of Greater Israel. Israel “generously gave” back the Gaza Strip to the Palestinians, he said. “It’s no mystery what will happen if they give up Judea and Samaria,” said Voight. A practicing Catholic, the Oscar-winning actor stars in the Showtime series “Ray Donovan” and appears regularly in fundraising telethons for Chabad.

Former U.S. Rep. Michele Bachmann,left, Jon Voight, and Mort Klein at the awards dinner. Credit: J. Savitsky

“President Barack Obama has really turned his back on Prime Minister [Benjamin] Netanyahu,” said Voight, who made a campaign video for Netanyahu before the Israeli election in March.

“We really must pray that the 2016 election will bring in a Republican president. I am certain that the people in this room will be instrumental in bringing that about,” he said to cheers and a standing ovation that also brought Sheldon Adelson to his feet. The Republican kingmaker and Netanyahu benefactor entered the banquet hall on a motorized scooter, accompanied by bodyguards and his wife, Dr. Miriam Adelson.

“You have just heard the word of a quintessential defender of Israel,” Adelson told the crowd immediately after Voight spoke.

Yet not all ZOA supporters are ardent Republicans. Susan Presky had come to the gala from her home in the Boston suburb of Newton for the second year in a row. She is a former Democratic voter who, because of what she called the party’s increasing distance from Israel, now considers herself an independent. A lawyer, she backs the ZOA because “this is one of the few organizations that really tells it like it is,” she said. “With all the media bias [against Israel], it’s very important to have a spokesman like Mort Klein.”

Dr. Miriam Adelson, left, and Sheldon Adelson at the rostrum during the awards dinner.Credit: J. Savitsky

The Adelsons are the ZOA’s biggest donors, Klein told Haaretz after dinner, though he wouldn’t divulge how much they give. In 2013, the last year for which tax records are publicly available, the ZOA had just over $5 million in income, compared to just $1.4 million the previous year. Klein demurred when asked how much the gala raised.

More than 200 college students were at the banquet, including some members of Christians United for Israel on their campuses. The students each paid $25 a ticket, with the balance underwritten by donors including Adelson, Mort Zuckerman and James Tisch, Klein later said.

Other speakers included former U.S. Rep. Michele Bachmann, who recently called on Christians to convert as many Jews as possible, and Israeli Ambassador to the United Nations Danny Danon. Danon quipped that while he’s been in the job just six weeks, “it feels like six years.”

The intention of the current terror “is to make us feel unsafe on our streets. If they are testing our resolve, they will fail,” Danon told the gala attendees. “We will overcome their cruel campaign of stabbings and stonings. The real test is for the international community.”

“There is only one side instigating violence. ... Instead of holding Palestinians and [Palestinian] President [Mahmoud] Abbas responsible, the UN responds with more resolutions against Israel. Abbas lies and says Israel plans to make Al-Aqsa Jewish, to incite, he said,” referring to the mosque on Jerusalem’s Temple Mount.

Though last month France initiated an effort to get international observers stationed on the Temple Mount, “we will not allow an international presence on Har Habayit!” Danon said to enthusiastic applause, using the Hebrew term for what Muslims call Haram al-Sharif. Today housing Muslim holy places Al-Aqsa Mosque and the Dome of the Rock, it also the location of both the first and second Temples, and is Judaism’s holiest site.

Had Jonathan Pollard been permitted to attend the banquet — it would have been a public coming-out since his release from federal prison last Friday — he surely would have been given a hero’s welcome. But the terms of his parole include a 7 P.M. to 7 A.M. curfew, movement “restricted to a small part of Manhattan” and constant federal monitoring of his online activity, his attorney Elliot Lauer said at the dinner.

“While he is out of prison, he is not free,” Lauer said. The restrictions “make it impossible for him to celebrate Shabbat or holiday with friends and family, and in effect bar him from any normal employment,” since no employer would want the federal government monitoring their business. A petition was filed on Friday in federal court to challenge the parole restrictions, Lauer said.

Lauer called on the ZOA backers to continue supporting the convicted spy’s quest for full emancipation. “He still needs your support to obtain true freedom,” Lauer said. “Am Israel Hai” [the people of Israel lives].”

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