At last week’s Zionist Organization of America gala dinner in Philadelphia, honoree David Horowitz, a conservative firebrand and staunch defender of Israel, surprised many in the audience when he revealed that he’d never been to the Jewish state.
What didn’t come out at the dinner was news that likely will have a far deeper impact on the 115-year-old organization: Since February, the nonprofit has been operating without tax-exempt status, news first reported by the Forward this week.
According to ZOA officials, the revocation of the group’s tax-exempt status came as the result of technical snafus and serious errors on the part of management. It did not represent any effort to deceive the government or donors or have anything to do with the group’s political orientation, said David Drimmer, ZOA’s national executive director.
“There was a mistake here, a mistake management had made that was compounded by our accountants,” said Drimmer. “It’s a big mistake for an organization, but that is what happened. We are certainly not happy about this.”
Drimmer said a tax attorney is working to have the exemption status retroactively reinstated and that the group hascleaned up its bookkeeping.
Lower Merion resident Morton Klein, ZOA’s longtime national president, has been ill, is currently on medical leave, and was not present at the gala. He could not be reached for comment.
Philadelphia is considered a strong bastion of support for the New York-based group and is home to other top leaders besides Klein. Among them is Michael Goldblatt, who serves as the chairman of ZOA’s national board and is current acting president while Klein is on leave.
The organization is continuing with its fundraising efforts and is working with a tax-exempt foundation to hold donations until ZOA regains its tax-exempt status.
“We can’t touch that money until we get our 501c3 status back,” said Drimmer, who added that the group has adequate funds to operate for the foreseeable future.
The more than 270 people who attended the Hilton Philadelphia City Avenue fundraiser on Sept. 6 were told to make their checks out to an entity called “FJC” and write “ZOA donor fund” on the memo line. Local ZOA leaders said they haven’t yet calculated how much they raised at the $180-a-head event. But there was no public mention at the event about the IRS problem.
ZOA has been a staunch opponent of territorial compromise with the Palestinians. Though ZOA is officially non-partisan — and the gala book contained greetings from elected officials from both parties — liberals were in short supply at the recent dinner.
At the gala dinner, Horowitz, the 73-year-old founder of www.
frontpagemag.com and the author of numerous books, told the audience that “there is a paradox in this honor given to me, a Jew who has never been to Israel and who has never considered himself a Zionist in the sense that its founders intended.”
Steve Feldman, executive director of the ZOA’s Greater Philadelphia District, said local leaders were unaware Horowitz hadn’t been there when they decided to give him the Ben Hecht Award for outstanding journalism.
“I was certainly surprised to hear it,” said Feldman. “The fact that he hasn’t been there yet does not detract from his strong advocacy for Israel and what he has done and what he will do in the future. We hope he gets the opportunity to go to Israel one day.”
In an interview after the event, Horowitz asserted that one doesn’t have to set foot on the land to discern truth from fiction.
Being pro-Israel is “the only moral position to take. There is right and there is evil. The Arab case is built on a total lie. There is not an inch of Israel that is built on Arab land.”