"Rude, dismissive and brusque!" Why Zionist leader Mort Klein is still fuming at Christie (and us)

Still mad about "occupied territories" remark, Adelson pal talks Ted Cruz and terrorism in "very biased interview"

Published April 4, 2014 12:30PM (EDT)

Mort Klein  (CNN)
Mort Klein (CNN)

When Gov. Chris Christie spoke at the Republican Jewish Coalition this past weekend, in an effort to appeal to GOP mega-donor Sheldon Adelson, at least one man was very upset with Christie's choice of words. Zionist Organization of America president Mort Klein immediately confronted the governor over his use of the term “occupied territories.”

Klein now tells Salon that Christie “was rude, dismissive and brusque” when he confronted him, and says his own conversations with Adelson suggest Christie had not made a true apology. He also told us that Christie-appointed Judge Sohail Mohammed was not “a good Muslim.”

“Virtually all the terrorism is committed by Arab Muslims,” Klein claims.

The century-old ZOA, a charter member of the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations, was reportedly praised by then-Sen. Hillary Clinton for working “tirelessly to safeguard Israel, as well as to promote democratic values and true peace throughout the Middle East.” Klein last year addressed the House Republican Conference as an invited guest.

Reached by phone before leaving Las Vegas, Klein called the West Bank “unallocated international land,” and argued that Palestinians “have to first transform their society, their culture” before Palestinian statehood “can even be discussed” – but rejected the idea of letting Palestinians there become voting citizens of Israel, on the grounds that “the situation should remain as is until finally resolved.”

Klein called the Palestinian Authority “a dictatorship,” but argued Palestinians already “run their own lives” in the West Bank; he called the role of the Israeli Defense Forces there (which one report found included 99 fixed checkpoints as of February) an “extremely minimal inconvenience.” He argued that a “super-majority of the people of Israel need to be Jewish,” but said the ZOA had “not gotten into” whether the Israeli government could change citizenship rules, shift borders or forcibly transfer non-Jews in order to maintain that majority.

The two-decade ZOA head also defended calling Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas an “Arab terrorist,” told Salon he could “understand [the] concerns” that spurred a 2010 proposal to require loyalty oaths of new non-Jewish citizens, and argued, “There’s never been any Palestinian Arab kings and queens.” A condensed version of our conversation follows.

Tell me about your exchanges with Chris Christie in Vegas.

I was sitting in the front row, and he talked about, I believe, flying over the “occupied territories.” I had a tremendous urge to scream out, “They’re not occupied territories!”

…You could hear a buzz around the room, people murmuring -- clearly people were upset about the term. Remember, this is a Republican Pro-Israel group. They’re much more staunchly Zionistic, and much more understanding that the Arabs have no interest in peace…

I went out the side of the auditorium to meet him when he would walk out through that side door… I said [essentially], “Governor Christie, you used the erroneous term 'occupied territory.' It’s erroneous and false, because Israel captured it in a defensive war, and more importantly, this was no one’s legally sovereign territory. Jordan illegally occupied this from ’48 to ’67. Only two countries in the world recognized their occupation of this territory. So Israel could not be accused of occupying someone else’s territory, because it’s unallocated international land.” And I said, “The Jews have a much stronger historical, religious, political and legal claim to this land than the Arabs do. So will you promise in the future to use the term ‘Judea and Samaria’ or ‘West Bank’ or even ‘disputed territories’?”

…He was very dismissive. He had like a frown on his face. And he said, “I saw - I saw you in the front row shaking your head.” He didn’t respond to my question. I said again, “Governor Christie, will you promise in the future to use the more accurate term ‘Judea and Samaria,’ ‘West Bank’ or ‘disputed territories’?” He said, “Yeah, I saw you shaking your head when I used that term.” And [was] totally dismissive.

The irony…[is] a big chunk of his speech was saying that Republicans have to listen to those who disagree with us… Then he has the first chance…He was rude, dismissive and brusque…

Then I talked to a bunch of journalists… I said, “I’m well aware that there now may be a major traffic jam in front of my home, and I won't be able to get out of my driveway for days.” And they all laughed…

Sheldon Adelson had a meeting with [Christie] – I’m told it went for two hours… What was peculiar to me, and mystifying, is all the reports saying he “apologized.” I had dinner with Sheldon and Miriam Sunday night. He didn’t use the word “I apologized, I am sorry.” He said, “I misspoke.” That’s hardly an apology. He should have said, “I now realize that was the wrong term. I will never use it again…I realize that Israel has a major claim to this land.” He didn’t do any of that…

And he said it to a man [Adelson] from whom he wants major financial support… What he said to me, who’s nobody to him, is what he really thinks. And to me he was dismissive. He couldn’t care less…

What do you need to hear from a presidential contender to be convinced that in your view they’ll be a friend of Israel?

Well, that’s a broad question. I need to hear… At a minimum, these are disputed territories. The Jews have at least as large a claim to them as the Arabs. The Jews have every right to live there. And we must ensure defensible borders, even if there’s a deal. I mean, you can't give away the Jordan Valley. And you have to maintain a presence in parts of Judea and Samaria, for at least many, many years.

And to demand -- recognize the Palestinian Authority has shown no interest in peace, no interest in even a state. They have to say: Until the Palestinian Authority says, “I will give up the claim of refugees moving into Israel” -- millions of so-called refugees -- “I’ll acknowledge Israel as a Jewish state; I’ll agree to no further claims after there’s a deal…I must commit to never going to the United Nations on issues prior to the agreement”; you know, and that they must end -- for a long period of time, before I would be satisfied -- to end incitement, promoting hatred and violence against Jews in their media in their speeches, in their schools…they will stop naming schools, streets, and sports teams after Jew-killers, which they do all the time; they will stop having parades glorifying terrorists, who kill Jews, who pass away.

I need to hear all that. Because what I’ve just said, any civilized society would agree to in one minute…

Finally, about Iran, that in the near future if they don’t stop their program toward nuclear weapons, we will use military action…

So I demand that [Palestinians] fulfill their obligation under Oslo, with these other additions.

And there are people who say that. Ted Cruz says these things. Mike Huckabee said these things…

And you’re saying all of those should be conditions before there could be a Palestinian state?

Well, the Iran issue is a Pro-Israel Pro-America issue. That is not Palestinian. But all of the other issues? Yes.

That simply all I’m saying, Josh: They must fulfill their obligations, all their obligations under the Oslo agreements…and they must fulfill them for a substantial period of time before Israel – before America and Israel should consider any concessions to the Palestinian Authority…

Are you bothered by Chris Christie’s appointment of Judge Sohail Mohammad?

He mischaracterized that issue at the RJC meeting. He said this was unequivocally Muslim bigotry – bigotry against Muslims. When in fact the issue was, as I understand it, that this Muslim man was affiliated with a radical Muslim group that is hostile to Israel, and that this man is close friends with Imam Constantine, who, my understanding is, has called for the murder of every Jew.

This issue has nothing to do with the fact that he’s Muslim. It has to do with the fact of who his alliances are, who his friends are, and what his beliefs are. And I was very disappointed, to say the least, that Christie characterized this as anti-Muslim bigotry. It was nothing of the sort.

If this was a good Muslim, without any affiliations that are problematic, I don’t believe -- virtually no Jew, and virtually no decent person, would have been opposed to it. But that was not what the case was.

So yes, it bothers me greatly that he would appoint such a man to the bench.

Which “radical Muslim group” are you referring to?

I can't remember the name of it. I just can’t remember the name.

American Muslim Union? It’s not a famous group, but it’s a bad group. The person who would know the answer to that is Steve Emerson. He’s a very famous terrorism expert. I don’t remember the name of the group.

But the fact that Christie has publicly demanded the FBI and the NYPD not investigate mosques looking for terror cells, when most of the terrorists come from the Muslim community, shows me that he does not have an appreciation or  understanding of the danger of radical Islamic terrorism to America, and to Israel, and the world. So all of it together makes me, as an American citizen, very nervous.

Was it appropriate for a state senator in confirmation hearings to ask then-nominee Sohail Mohammed, “Have you ever objected to the term Islamo-terrorist” and “what does the term 'jihad' mean”?

I think if a candidate for the bench has alliances with a radical Muslim group, or alliances with a radical anti-black group, or a radical any group that is way out of the mainstream, then the citizens of any state have a right to understand what this person’s real feelings are, if he has shown – if we know about alliances [that are] troubling.

So I think questions along those lines, knowing his alliances with Imam Constantine, and with this radical Muslim group, it is understandable to ask those questions, to try to get a sense whether he is sympathetic to the beliefs of this Muslim group, and the beliefs of Imam Constantine. And that would go for any candidate who is a member of the Ku Klux Klan, or something of that nature…

Before someone is on the bench, we have to know this is someone we can trust, that has, you know, essentially, the best interests of American citizens at the heart.

And when you say “affiliated with,” and “allied” with, what are you referring to about Judge Mohammed specifically?

My recollection is he was a member of such a group, that he attended meetings of such a group – that’s my recollection.

If I am incorrect, I am happy to be corrected. But that is my recollection.

If the West Bank is not occupied territory, then should Palestinians living in the West Bank have the chance to vote in Israeli elections?

These are disputed territories until this issue is resolved… The situation should remain as is until finally resolved.

The fact that Israel offered them a state in 2000 and 2008 on 98 percent of the territories, including territories from within the ’67 line, shows they have no serious interest in peace. They could have had a state many times. They could have had it in ’37, the Peel Commission, ’48, the U.N., 2000, 2008. From ‘48 to ’67, they controlled all of Judea and Samaria, Gaza, Eastern Jerusalem, the Golan, the Sinai -- they didn’t set up a state. Because the Israelis understand: Their goal is not statehood. It’s Israel’s destruction.

We have control over Puerto Rico, but Puerto Ricans can’t vote in national elections, and that’s a permanent situation. It seems to me you can’t – Israel has not annexed those territories, so it’s still up for discussion, and until there’s a final disposition, they certainly shouldn’t have – give people political rights in an area that Israel has not annexed. I mean, Israel has not annexed Lebanon either, and they certainly shouldn’t vote in Israeli elections.

No, until it is finally resolved, it is completely and thoroughly appropriate it should be as it is.

And you know, when polls show even among Jordanian citizens, Palestinian Authority, that 95 percent have negative feelings about Jews, 95 percent – this is a major Gallup poll, it’s two polls. And over half support suicide bombings against Jews. You know, this is a very hostile population. But as long as it’s not annexed, and it’s not, there’s no final disposition, I think the situation has to remain as it is.

And is the character of Israeli democracy affected when you have so many people subject to the control of the Israeli government, but not able to vote on who’s in the Israeli government?

No, no. You’ve totally mischaracterized the situation… 42 percent of Judea and Samaria, where 98.5 of the Arabs – Palestinian Arabs live -- they have control over their own lives. They have their own legislature, their own parliament, their own schools, their own textbooks; they run their own lives. The only difference? Israel maintains the right of maintaining security for Israelis, and to be in those areas to look for terror cells, which they find all the time…

So these people have total control over their lives, except security. And that -- and if there weren’t constant terror attacks, Israel would leave those areas. Israel -- in terms of security, Israel has no interest in having the IDF there for fun. It is not fun.

It is a burden. It is unpleasant, and they’re doing it to protect the lives of Israeli citizens -- both Arab citizens and Jewish, I might add.

So it is incorrect to say that Israel has control over them. They run their own lives. They have Mahmoud Abbas, they have a president, they have a prime minister. They have a parliament that they elected.  They have all sorts of systems. They have a major – one of the largest police forces in the world.

So Josh, your characterization of it is just inaccurate.

So is it your position that the role of the Israeli military in the West Bank does not meaningfully infringe on Palestinians’ control over their own lives?

Because the Palestinian Authority promotes terrorism, promotes demonizing Jews in every aspect of their culture, and even takes the racist position – racist – that no Jews will be allowed in Palestine – I don’t hear any questions from you, Josh, about that concern, and the duty of any government is to protect its own citizens.

Because terror cells are constantly formed, and terror plans are constantly concocted, whatever minimal -- extremely minimal -- inconvenience there may be to the Palestinian Authority, this is something that happens because the Palestinian Authority has not done anything to counter terrorism: arresting terrorists, putting them in prison for a long time, making it clear that suicide bombing and killing innocent Jews is an outrage. So no, this is a necessity brought upon the Israeli IDF by the Palestinian Authority’s lack of action in stopping terrorism, and by the nature of the population, in their enmity toward Jews, and wanting to kill as many Jews as they can…

So no, if you ask me should the IDF get out of there, and then there’ll be dozens of suicide bombings, or should they stay there to prevent them, every Israeli citizen will tell you we want the IDF in there. Any citizen of the world in that situation would say we want the IDF in there, and would complain as to why the Palestinian authority is glorifying terrorists…

The burden that you should place is on the Palestinian Authority in the territories, to be fighting to stop terrorism, not on the IDF, which is forced to deal with the fact that the PA doesn’t do – does virtually nothing to stop terrorism and to stop glorifying terrorism and to condemn it. They do the opposite.

So no, this is – this is an obligation that the IDF has, and they do it well.

Netanyahu and his cabinet backed a [2010] proposal, defeated in Knesset, to require new non-Jewish citizens to swear a loyalty oath to Israel as a “Jewish and democratic state.” If such a bill became law, would that make Israel a less democratic country?

ZOA has not taken a position on that. But since they found so many Israeli Arabs involved in plots to kill…you can understand concerns that they have, [about] the Arab population, that they’re -- they have a concern that these people are hostile to other Jews. But the ZOA has not taken a position on this, so I can’t speak to it without them…

Would the country be less democratic, though, if new citizens of certain religions, and not new Jewish citizens, had to declare an oath?

Look: It’s not a law, so why are you dealing with this?

Josh, I sense every question of yours is hostile to Israel. You express no concern about Mahmoud Abbas, at the U.N. last year, giving a speech saying we have to end the occupation that started in 1948… He said this is the land of Mohammed and Jesus, doesn’t mention Moses….

And I don’t hear any questions about these outrageous actions by the Palestinian Authority, showing clearly they don’t support Israel to exist even within any borders, and they praise and honor terrorists like Arafat. And they show all of Israel with a keffiyeh over all of it. And you’re trying to tell me concern about Israel’s democracy? When Mahmoud Abbas is in his 10th year of a four-year term?

He is a dictator. There has not been an election in the last many number of years, even though that’s required under their law. And I don’t hear any questions from you about what do I think about the fact that there’s no democracy there, that there hasn’t even been elections, that this man is a dictator who’s running it, and he’s a terrorist dictator who commissioned an emblem showing – praising Arafat with rifles, and with keffiyehs over all of Israel. And here you’re questioning Israeli democracy, that has real elections, [where] Palestianin Arabs vote for prime minister?

If a large majority of Palestinians living in the West Bank were to indicate that, rather than voting in Palestinian Authority elections, they wanted to be able to vote in Knesset elections, should there be a path for them to do so?

No. Israel has not annexed these territories. Palestinians – 98.5 percent of the Palestinians Arabs are under their own autonomy, their own rule, in Judea and Samaria. They have their own parliament, their own president -- even though he’s a dictator -- and they run their own schools, their own police force. So I don’t understand the question. They run their own lives.

Israeli’s foreign minister, Avigdor Lieberman, is arguing that any deal that creates a Palestinian state must include shifting borders in a way that would make substantial numbers of Palestinians who are currently Israeli citizens no longer be citizens of Israel. Is that a reasonable condition?

You know, your questions are so hostile. We have not – ZOA has not taken a position on Lieberman’s position on that…We have not discussed that, and so I can’t speak to that. And you know, this is one official making that proposal, and right now I don’t see it moving, and so there’s really no point in discussing it…

Uri Bank, the secretary-general of the Jewish Home coalition, which Netanyahu has made part of his government, reportedly told a crowd in Brussels last month that there was a consensus on the Israeli right on annexing Area C of the West Bank, and that he also supports annexing areas A and B.  Is that a reasonable stance?

We haven’t studied this, this position. I have to study it and then talk to you about it. You know, so, I mean, there’s ongoing negotiations, which the Palestinian Authority have refused to participate in for five years. And now they’re violating conditions by going to the U.N. to join various committees there. And I don’t hear one question about my thoughts about those issues. Not one.

I think you’re really, frankly, Josh, you’re being unfair, and you’re showing a bias, an unfair bias.

But on the Area C: ZOA has not taken a position on it. We have not discussed what we think about that, so I can’t speak to it.

On the question of Israel as a Jewish state: What, in your view, would make Israel no longer be a “Jewish state”?

What’s that?

What would make Israel no longer be a “Jewish state”?

I don’t even understand the purpose of this question. I’ll say it is important for strong consensus -- a super-majority of the people of Israel need to be Jewish, to maintain, you know, the values and beliefs of the Jewish people, and our traditions for thousands of years.

And what lengths should the Israeli government be willing to go to in order to maintain a Jewish super-majority?

I don’t know – we have not discussed such issues.

Why have you not asked me one question of concern about the Palestinian Authority, Josh? Not one. Not one.

Is it more important -

Are you proud of yourself? Are you proud of this…

Is it more important that Israel be a Jewish state than that Israel be a democracy?

There is one tiny Jewish state in the world besides New Jersey. There are 46 Islamic states, Muslim states. Italy is a Catholic state. I think the Jews have the right to one Jewish state in the world. And yes, I think it’s very important that we have at least, certainly, one Jewish state in the world. And that state now is Israel…

So should the Israeli government be changing borders, or changing citizenship rules, or forcibly moving people in order to keep a Jewish super-majority?

We do not get into it, we have not gotten into it, so I can’t answer it anyway.

Does that include on the question of forcibly moving people in order to keep a Jewish super-majority?

I mean, Israel is 20 percent Arab – Muslim. And Mahmoud Abbas has said he will not allow a single Jew to live in Israel. And Saeb Erakat has said it. And so has Sari Nusseibeh, that no Jew will be allowed in Palestine. I see you have no concern about that.

I don’t believe you’ve answered my question about transfer – involuntary transfer – of people out of Israel to keep a Jewish super-majority.

ZOA has never taken a position for the forcible removal of any Israeli citizen from their home.

And has ZOA taken a position against that?

We’ve never discussed it. It’s never come up. Because it’s not on the table. It’s not even close to being on the table…

Should U.S. economic or military aid to Israel be contingent on anything in terms of the policies of the Israeli government?

I see this is simply a very biased interview, with no understanding of the Arab war against Israel. And I – I don’t see the point of continuing it…

I would ask you, Josh: Why don’t you ask me whether the $600 million in aid to a terrorist entity -- a racist terrorist entity, that promotes hatred and violence against Jews, and names schools, streets and sports teams against killers of Jews -- why should we be giving $600 million a year to such an entity? But you don’t ask that question.

In a recent statement, you wrote, “It is perfectly clear that Abbas is simply another Arab terrorist whose goal is Israel’s destruction.” Why specifically use the term “Arab terrorist” to refer to Abbas?

Well, he’s an Arab. He promotes violence and hatred against Jews in the schools, streets and sports teams. He greets terrorists who have murdered Jews as heroes, with parades, when they’re released from Israeli prisons…

Someone who promotes terrorism, honors terrorism, glorifies terrorism, that person is a terrorist. And that is what Mahmoud Abbas does, and he’s an Arab, and so he’s an Arab terrorist.

If someone who is not Jewish referred to Bibi Netanyahu, for example, as “a Jewish liar,” would that be an out-of-bounds comment, to throw the word “Jewish” in there?

Almost all of the terrorism in the world is done by Islamic terrorists. A huge chunk of that are Arab terrorists. And so, because it’s so well-known that most of terrorism is promoted, done, perpetrated by Arab Muslim terrorists, I simply want to make it clear that Mahmoud Abbas is really part of this onslaught from the Arab Islamic – from a chunk of the Arab Islamic world, committing terrorism throughout the world. And that’s why I think it’s appropriate to say he’s part of this group of Arabs who commit terrorism, because virtually all the terrorism is committed by Arab Muslims.

Was Newt Gingrich correct to call Palestinians an “invented” people?

Until the late ‘60s, the word “Palestinian” meant Jew…

[But] they began to use this term to try to forge a separate identity, to make a more – a stronger claim for a state, and for land to be given to the Arabs…

There’s never been any Palestinian Arab kings and queens. They have the same religion as other Arabs… essentially the same culture. So I understand why Newt Gingrich said that these Arabs here in Judea and Samaria are really part of the Arab people, that until the late ‘60s there was no Palestinian Arab people. One may argue that today maybe that’s changed, that maybe that’s different. But I understand where he was coming from.

Should there ever be a contiguous Palestinian state that includes the majority of the West Bank and Gaza?

That question is so hypothetical. Because Hamas is in Gaza - they’re a terrorist group whose charter not only calls for the destruction of Israel, but for the murder of every Jew… The Fatah charter in 10 articles calls for Israel’s destruction. So we are nowhere near discussing the appropriateness of a Palestinian Arab state, and I’m not interested in discussing it. They have to first transform their society, their culture, from being a hateful culture to Jews and the West, before it can even be discussed. So I’m not going to even discuss the nature of a Palestinian state because they have to first transform their culture.

I wouldn’t discuss the Marshall Plan in 1941 – I would discuss it when the war ends…

There’s no purpose in discussing a Palestinian state at this time.

A Pew poll last year found that 48 percent of American Jews don’t believe the Israeli government is making a “sincere effort” to reach a peace agreement. Does that trouble you?

There’s many other polls showing different numbers. In fact, the American Jewish Committee poll shows that 55 percent of American Jews oppose a Palestinian state…

Anyone who said they haven’t made a good effort simply does not know what has been going on for the last 20 years.

How would you characterize ZOA’s influence in Washington?

The Wall Street Journal [in 2002] called us the most credible pro-Israel group in the United States. Jerusalem Post called us one of the most important and influential groups in the United States. Ma’ariv actually called us the most important Jewish group in the United States – I’m only quoting what Ma’ariv said. We have stopped the nominations of five or six very hostile people to important posts….

I think we’re as influential as virtually any Jewish pro-Israel group in the United States.

By Josh Eidelson

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