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Barack Obama Vs. Mort Klein. Who The Hell Is Mort Klein?

The president doesn’t like Mort Klein. I don’t know whether they’ve ever met. But the Obama folk did convene a meeting for the president with the “Jewish leadership,” which included, as it happens, American Jewish organizations (new on the block and who are financed mostly by Jewish billionaires who care not a fig for the survival of a people they do not think of as their home) believing that Israel is basically responsible for the intensity and duration of the conflict with the Arabs, in general, and the Palestinians, in particular. Anyway, Klein is president of the Zionist Organization of America which makes him, if you’ve read Jeff Rosen’s dazzling TNR essay on Supreme Court justice Louis Dembitz Brandeis, a literal successor to Brandeis who himself had difficult views on a settlement with the Arabs. A literal successor, nonetheless, in the same way that Elena Kagan will be.

Now, Klein takes a harder line than Brandeis did. But then the Arabs had not waged five wars against Israel, and the Palestinian cause had not yet been invented. There were cases of random terror as much against Jewish agricultural workers as against Arab effendi. In any case, the map of the Levant was being divided, and a tiny portion had been allocated to the Zionists—as larger divisions were cut out for new states like Lebanon, Syria, Jordan, Iraq, etc. Not democratic states or even states cut to demography. Each of these states, by the way, is still a mess, which is a massive understatement. Except the Zionist encampment of Israel, a modern state with a free press, an independent judiciary, a real university system and an open culture. OK, smartass, give your ardor to Palestine. It will be like having given your ardor to Khmer Rouge Cambodia.

Barack Obama came to 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue a year-and-a-half ago with clear rhetoric and fuzzy ideas about the Middle East. Many Jews and Jewish organizations went along, hoping against hope that the man would learn. Some say he has; some say he at least has doubts about what were once his certainties. Others say he is just playing for time. I can’t say that I’ll give him the benefit of the doubt. But I did spend a week campaigning for him in Jewish Florida, and frankly I resent the certainties I uttered then. And my readers should also resent them. In any case, pessimism is a Jewish trait. So I’m a pessimist.

And so is Mort Klein who has learned much from history. Those mainstream Jewish leaders who attended Obama’s exclusive White House meeting are no longer so high on his neat plans and on his fantasy expectations. Klein, who was explicitly and deliberately excluded, has the satisfaction of other invitees’ deep new doubts. And J Street? Well, J Street is J Street.

Klein is a bit of a nudnik. He does release a statement just about every day. Mostly I just let them pass. But today’s hit me in the solar plexus. It came a few days after the president said that he was optimistic about the proximity talks. Maybe he is. I, on the other hand, can’t see any reason to be. The New York Times’ seasoned reporter Isabel Kershner writes in an article today what is virtually a dirge.

Why did Klein’s epistle shake me so? Because it is about Palestinian opinion measured by a reasonable—that is, honest—Palestinian survey. Here it is ZOA’s press release in its entirety. What it tells us is that the Palestinians have given in on or even modified the most fanatic of their demands. Progress? Tell it to J Street.


A new poll shows that Palestinians oppose by an overwhelming 82% to 14% the renunciation of the so-called ‘right of return,’ the legally baseless demand that all Palestinian refugees of the 1948-49 war and their millions of descendants return to Israel. This opposition was expressed even if the price of maintaining the ‘right of return’ was the non-conclusion of a peace agreement with Israel. The poll, conducted by the Palestinian Center for Public Opinion (PCPO), also found that, by a nearly identical margin of 82% to 13%, Palestinians would oppose the Palestinian leadership waiving the ‘right of return’ in exchange for financial compensation for refugees and their descendants. It also found that Hamas is more than doubly popular in PA-controlled areas in Judea and Samaria than in Hamas-run Gaza (41% in the West Bank versus 20% in Gaza) (‘PCPO Poll of Palestinians - 81.8 % won’t drop right of return even if means deal breaker and no state, Hamas more popular in West Bank than Gaza,’ Independent Media Review Analysis, July 12, 2010).

This overwhelming level of support for the ‘right of return’ is consistent with past polls:

  • August 2007: A Jerusalem Media and Communications Center poll found that nearly 70% of Palestinians wanted the refugee issue resolved by return of all refugees to “their original land,” not a new Palestinian state (Rick Richman, ‘What Most Palestinian Believe,’ New York Sun, November 12, 2007).

  • February 2006: 83.3% of the Palestinian Arabs oppose dropping the legally and morally baseless so-called ‘right of return’ of refugees and their millions of descendants to Israel and reject substitute solutions to the refugee issue (Palestinian Center for Public Opinion (PCPO) poll, February 16-20, 2006).

ZOA National President Morton A. Klein said, “It is crystal clear from this poll and a great deal of other data that Palestinian society clearly opposes acceptance of Israel as a Jewish state and consistently favors by large majorities positions that indicate this – support for the co-called ‘right of return’; support for terror attacks on Israelis; and opposition to an end of claims after any signed agreement, among other things.

“Despite these poll results, the Obama Administration persists in claiming that Palestinians are committed to a peaceful future and seek only statehood alongside Israel. By stating the opposite of what the facts warrant, it is misleading the American public and pursuing a policy which lacks any factual basis. The consistent high levels of Palestinian public support for the so-called ‘right of return’ which would see Israel destroyed by inundation of hostile Palestinian refugees and their descendants, demonstrates all too clearly that Palestinian society is not reconciled to the right of Israel to exist as a Jewish state.”