The Zionist Organization of America (ZOA): Pioneering American Zionism

The Zionist Organization of America (ZOA): Pioneering American Zionism -

The Zionist Organization of America (ZOA), established in 1897, stands as the earliest Jewish Zionist organization founded in the United States. It played a significant role in promoting Zionist ideals in the years leading up to the establishment of the State of Israel.

Particularly noteworthy is its role in rallying American government support for the creation of Israel, especially when many Jewish groups in the U.S. were not initially supportive of Zionism. Prominent leaders within the organization included Louis Brandeis, Stephen Samuel Wise, Abba Hillel Silver, Richard Gottheil, and others. Morton Klein has served as the organization's president since 1994, as of 2020.


Founded in 1897, the Zionist Organization of America (ZOA) became the first official Zionist organization in the United States. It also became a prominent representative organization for American Jewry within the World Zionist Organization, along with its sister organization, Hadassah, the American Zionist Labor Party, and the Eastern Zionist Organization in America.

The 21st Annual Convention in Pittsburgh

On June 25, 1918, the 21st annual convention of the ZOA convened in Pittsburgh at Soldiers Memorial Hall. It was during this gathering that the organization ratified the "Pittsburgh Program," which encompassed six fundamental principles:

Horace Kallen was responsible for drafting the proposal that was ratified in Pittsburgh. This document was later revised by several Zionist leaders in America, with federal Supreme Court Justice Louis Brandeis being among them.

The 1921 Schism

In 1920, leaders of American Zionism, including Louis Brandeis, Nathan Straus, Stephen Samuel Wise, and Julian Mack, stood at the forefront of the movement. In light of the Balfour Declaration, Brandeis presented a proposal at the June 1920 Zionist Congress to professionalize Zionist activities in preparation for the influx of Jewish immigrants to Palestine. Following this Congress, Nehemiah de Lieme and Julius Simon were added to the slimmed-down Zionist Executive Committee, with assurances that they would be responsible for the financial management of activities in Palestine. However, at the beginning of 1921, both de Lieme and Simon resigned when they realized that the leadership had no intention of allowing them to function. A protracted negotiation ensued between leaders of the Zionist Organization of America, known as the Brandeis Group, and Chaim Weizmann. Ultimately, the Brandeis Group announced their resignation, articulating their reasons in a lengthy letter.

Activity in the 21st Century

As of 2020, Morton Klein serves as the organization's president. Among the notable figures involved in the organization is billionaire philanthropist Sheldon Adelson.

Every year, the ZOA hosts a special event, including a fundraising dinner to gather donations for Israel. In 2011, special guests at the event included then-Senate Foreign Relations Committee Chairwoman Eliana Ros-Lehtinen and renowned commentator Glenn Beck, with many members of Congress in attendance. Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu sent a congratulatory message.

Today, the Zionist Organization of America remains an integral part of the Zionist movement in the United States, boasting more than 30,000 members. The organization has embraced a right-wing perspective, publicly supporting the annexation of Judea and Samaria (the West Bank) by Israel, with billboards in Jerusalem.

The Herzl Award, also known as the "Gold Medal," is a prestigious honor given by the ZOA to individuals who have made outstanding contributions to Zionism. Past recipients include Lord Arthur James Balfour, Sir Winston Churchill, U.S. President Harry S. Truman, and Israeli Prime Ministers David Ben-Gurion, Golda Meir, Menachem Begin, and Yitzhak Shamir.

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