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ZOA challenger Goldberg claims straw poll victory

By Donald H. Harrison

Donald H. Harrison

Donald H. Harrison

SAN DIEGO– Steven Goldberg, a Los Angeles attorney who is  national vice chairman of the Zionist Organization of America, claims he has overwhelming support in a straw poll of the ZOA membership to replace Morton A. Klein as the organization’s president.

Conducted over a three-day period, and sent to 1,099 members with an email address on record, ZOA’s national constituency favored him over Klein by a margin of 78% to 22%, according to a release e-mailed to media by Goldberg.

In response to a reporter’s inquiry, Goldberg said the actual number of votes “was 92/26 in my favor. The ballot was sent to all ZOA members who have e-mail addresses (1099). The vast majority are simply no longer active or interested. I sent the ZOA e-mail list to Survey Monkey and they sent it out. The question was simply, ‘Who is your choice for ZOA President?’ They were given two options, Steve Goldberg and Mort Klein.”

Elizabeth Berney, a campaign volunteer from Great Neck, N.Y.,  and spokeswoman for Klein, said the email list in question represented about 4 percent of the ZOA membership and could not be considered representative of members’ actual opinions.  She said an invitation to answer the survey question was included as a link in a campaign letter sent out by Goldberg in which he made many charges against Klein, all of which she described as false.  She said many friends and supporters of Klein, after receiving the survey, decided not to participate because it seemed to them to be unfair.

Goldberg stated in his press release  that “concerns regarding the disenfranchisement of the national membership and the fundamental fairness of the upcoming elections have been raised after Klein unilaterally decided to relocate ZOA’s national convention from New York to Philadelphia, where he resides.

“Klein is also dictating that ZOA delegates must travel to Philadelphia to vote in person, and has unilaterally ruled out absentee balloting, voting by proxy, or voting by e-mail submission.  The result is that the election will exclude the vast majority of ZOA members, while ensuring a majority turn-out of Klein’s personal friends.”

Berney said that Philadelphia was chosen as a convention site at the request of the Philadelphia chapter, and that the selection was made “months before he (Goldberg) announced his candidacy.”  She said if Klein really wanted to assure more delegates voting in his favor, he’d have been better off having the convention in New York, where the organization has its national headquarters.

Goldberg’s press release also said:  “I am running in this race, despite every attempt by Mort Klein to engineer the election in his favor, because I care deeply about Israel and the Zionist Organization of America. I believe the ZOA could be so much more than it presently is if it were run properly. What I am offering is a real plan to professionally reorganize the ZOA from top to bottom. Under my plan ZOA’s terrific staff and motivated national membership would find their efforts to help Israel carried out far more effectively. I have no doubt that under new leadership the many disenchanted donors and members who have departed in recent years will enthusiastically return to supporting the ZOA,” said Goldberg.

Berney said ZOA fundraising has been healthy and that the organization is not in any financial trouble.

“Ultimately, this election will boil down to the conscience and integrity of the few delegates who will be able to personally attend the convention in Mort’s home town,” Goldberg said. “Mort’s record of mismanagement, scandal and extraordinary salary are a proven matter of fact. ZOA cannot survive given more of the same. I can only hope that the delegates stop for a moment to sincerely consider what’s at stake for Israel’s sake.”

David Drimer, ZOA’s national executive director, said neither the ZOA’s bylaws nor New York State laws governing non-profit organizations chartered within its boundaries, permit electronic participation at member meetings.  “It has never been and is not now allowed to be anything but in-person voting by delegates,” he said in an interview.  He said under the organization’s bylaws  ZOA members don’t vote directly for national officers, but instead send delegates to the national convention.

To this Goldberg replied that there is no provision in the by-laws explicitly prohibiting electronic voting.  The wording is ambiguous, he said.  Having the convention in Philadelphia, he said, gives Klein a hometown advantage because he can get his friends to attend without them incurring expense.  If the meeting were held in Los Angeles, he said, there would be a different result.  A nationwide electronic poll would be fairer, he added.

Goldberg said he had offered to have his and Klein’s name submitted to all those who wished to be delegates and, if an electronic poll showed him losing, he would have been willing to withdraw from the race.  Under such circumstances, he added, if a physical meeting were actually required, Klein’s name could be submitted to the delegates unopposed.  However, said Goldberg, Klein declined his offer.

Drimer said the organization has held conventions in other cities on various occasions, adding that it is “much cheaper for our delegates to attend in Philadelphia” where there are “cheaper hotel rates and cheaper catering” than in New York City, whereas flights to Philadelphia are not any more expensive.  “If you look at our most active chapters–Pittsburgh, Detroit, Philadelphia and New York it is not inconvenient at all,” he said.

One of the controversies leading to claims that Klein has mismanaged the organization deals with the fact that the ZOA losts its tax exempt status for a period of three years.  Drimer said that approximately 400,000 non-profit organizations in the United States similarly lost their non-profit tax status because new IRS rules were difficult to understand. During the time that ZOA was not tax exempt, he said, donations were placed in a donor advised fund under the auspices of a fiscal management partner, the Foundation for the Jewish Community.  The donations remained in the fund, untouched, until ZOA’s tax exempt status was restored retroactively, he said.

On charges that Klein has been taking too great a salary, Drimer said on the average Klein has been paid less than $200,000 per year to head the organization.  The first five years he was in office, he said, he received no salary at all, for which he was later given retirement credit and make-up payments.  In one year, he added, a combination of those make up payments brought Klein’s one-year only earnings to over $1 million.

The national executive director estimated ZOA’s current national membership at 20,000 persons, and said approximately 200 delegates are expected for the two-day convention which begins Sunday, March 9.  Goldberg said with allegedly so many members, it’s surprising that there are less than 1,100 on the email list, “and of those, more than 25 percent bounced back.”

Harrison is editor of San Diego Jewish World.  He may be contacted at [email protected]

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2 Responses to “ZOA challenger Goldberg claims straw poll victory”

  1. Liz Berney says:

    Goldberg’s poll is an attempt to distract attention from the fact that Goldberg does not have the real support needed to win a fair election which meets New York State’s legal requirements, and the requirements of the ZOA Constitution.

    The election at the convention will have poll watchers from both sides and will be not be subject to fraud, as Goldberg’s push poll clearly was.

    Goldberg’s invalid and fraudulent “poll” was the worst type of “push poll” imaginable. (A “push poll” is an unfair poll that is accompanied by statements designed to influence the persons taking the poll.) Goldberg’s poll was not sent out by some disinterested pollster. The poll was sent by Goldberg, embedded into Goldberg’s own email containing Goldberg’s false written and video statements, maligning Mort Klein and the ZOA. Goldberg followed that up by having a newspaper send emails to the same people, containing false stories obviously planted by Goldberg, and urging folks to vote based on these false stories. For instance, Goldberg’s survey was accompanied by Goldberg’s false statement that it was an “undisputed fact” that “ZOA is in critical condition” and “donations to the ZOA are down.” This is patently false. Donations exceeded $5 million last year, and ZOA has millions in its operating reserve account – and Goldberg knows this, as he received reports of the donations. Goldberg’s survey was also accompanied by his false statement that it is “undisputed” that Mr. Klein “took a shocking portion” of donations for himself. This is false on numerous levels. First, Mr. Klein has worked selflessly and tirelessly for ZOA, took no salary at all for over 5 years of full-time round-the-clock work while Mr. Klein rescued ZOA from bankruptcy, and has never asked for anything for himself. Mr. Klein does not “pay himself.” His salary is recommended by a compensation committee, and then subjected to board approval as well as an independent compensation consultant. His salary has averaged $210,000 a year, a modest amount for the multiple roles that Mr. Klein fills at ZOA, and the enormous amount of funds that Mr. Klein brings in from his relationships with major donors. Goldberg also misleadingly portrayed Mr. Kleins’ 2008 salary as including amounts which were actually the funds set aside in 2008 (not paid then) for a forfeitable, one-time, taxable pension, which will amount to less than a sanitation worker’s pension.

    Numerous ZOA members emailed and called us that they support Mort Klein, and that they were not going to answer Goldberg’s poll due to its unfairness and the potential for Goldberg’s abuse of their information if they responded to his poll. In addition, many known supporters of Mort Klein (myself included) did not even receive Goldberg’s poll, even though Goldberg clearly has our email addresses. (Goldberg has emailed me several times.)

    I hope that anyone reading this will look into the facts, at Mr. Klein’s reelection website, at – and visit the “setting the record straight” and “why we need Mort” and “opponent’s admissions” pages.

    Please also note that Mr. Klein’s campaign advised supporters to ignore Goldberg’s poll because the poll was invalid and raised privacy and other concerns. See the following interesting blog, which spells out even more about what was wrong with Goldberg’s push poll:

    Polls like this one are no doubt why they say, “the only poll that counts is the election.”

  2. G Stein says:

    This poll smells so dishonest.

    To send your own pitch and your campaign video with the survey, to exclude even some known supporters of the incumbent, and then to issue a press release failing to disclose that you orchestrated the poll I think makes you a misleading , if not outright dishonest person, and the kind politics makes you unfit to hold the office for you are running.


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