Josh Nathan-Kazis has a story in The Forward which I find disappointing in one major point. He has been writing an otherwise exemplary series about American Jewish pro-settler non-profits which raise tens of millions to support what amounts to a Holy Land War against Palestinians in the Territories and East Jerusalem.
Nathan-Kazis points to a major U.S. Supreme Court ruling against Bob Jones University which found that its discriminatory practices against African Americans justified revocation of its tax-exempt status since:
“an institution seeking tax-exempt status must… not be contrary to established public policy.”
The Forward report quotes a number of legal authorities, most of whom are dubious about whether as strong a case can be made against pro-settler non-profits. But one point in particular struck me as wrong-headed. Several experts advance the notion that Bob Jones’ racist policies were contrary to rulings and legislation passed by every branch of the U.S. government. With the settler groups however, the case has not yet been as strongly made that their fundraising is contrary to U.S. values and policies:
Even if the argument could be made that the Bob Jones decision allows for the revocation of the tax exemption of groups that fund settlement construction, some argue that the IRS would never make such a claim. “Revocation of exemption is an enormous and extreme sanction, one that the IRS is loath to impose,” wrote Loyola Law School Los Angeles professor Ellen Aprill in an e-mail. “Put yourself in the place of the commissioner of the IRS. Whatever settled or firm national public policy may mean, the IRS is not going to interpret it to mean the current position of a particular administration.”
This is entirely wrong since every U.S. administration going back to Jimmy Carter if not earlier has found settlements to be illegal and contrary to stated U.S. policy. The only reason the Supreme Court has not ruled on this is that it is a foreign policy matter which the Court doesn’t usually take up. Congress similarly has not had reason to pass specific legislation on settlements though it can reasonably be assumed that if it did, it could easily pass a sense of Congress resolution saying the same (though Aipac would lobby the hell out of it to kill it).
Even Ori Nir, someone I respect immensely, gets it wrong in this particular case:
“You’re going down a very slippery slope, and it’s something we prefer not to do,” said Ori Nir, spokesman for Americans for Peace Now. Nir said that his group supports drawing attention to American not-for-profits that fund settlements, but that the notion that organizations opposing the policy of a given administration could lose their tax exemption is troubling.
“Take the issue of abortion, for instance,” Nir said. “Is it right when there is a conservative administration that opposes abortion to apply that kind of litmus test to organizations that deal with issues of reproductive rights? It’s messy.”
The issue of abortion is a red herring since all U.S. administrations, Republican as well as Democratic have opposed settlements. There is unanimity on this fellas. I’m disappointed that Ori has had a failure of nerve on this. To fight the settlement scourge we will need bold measures that take it to the funders and enablers. Fighting against their non-profit designation is one entirely legitimate tool.
Further, we need to broaden the argument regarding settlements. They should lose their tax exempt status not just because settlements in and of themselves violate U.S. policy, but because the heinous racist acts of murder, mayhem and hate perpetrated by settlers who receive this money violate every value Americans hold dear. The settlements and the very essence of the settler enterprise are contrary to American policy and values. That’s the argument we need to make. Loud and clear.
Further, Ori has made another poor argument in this interview in the Jerusalem Post, which claims that the issue of tax-exemption is peripheral:
“I think that most people who do give to settlements would do so regardless, whether they get a tax break or not, you can pretty much count on it that they’ll do it,” Nir said.
That’s not the point. The point is that the U.S. government through its tax code is facilitating conduct that runs contrary to our values and policies. If these donors want to give to settlements let them do so, but without the blessing of our government and the facilitation of our fellow citizens who are footing part of the bill.
The erstwhile liberal Eric Yoffie also gets it entirely wrong:
“Ultimately, settlement policy is going to be determined not by individual contributors here,” he said. “It will be determined by the actions of the government of Israel. My own view is that that’s what we need to focus on.”
If I believed this were true or possible I would agree. But my point is precisely that the Israeli government will not take the required action to reign in settlements. That is why our government must take a moral/political stand in whatever small way it can to tell Israel that we will no longer enable such inimical Israeli behavior.
The Post reports that yet another American Jewish settler funder has hosted a glittering fundrasing gala in New York City:
Inside a glittering New York City ballroom on Wednesday night, several hundred people turned out to support the construction of Jewish housing near an Arab-populated part of east Jerusalem.
Weeks after the Obama administration reiterated its condemnation of such building, some 300 guests found cause for celebration: Days earlier, the Beit Orot yeshiva got permission from the Jerusalem Municipal Planning and Construction Committee to build four residential buildings [ed., 24 housing units] adjacent to its property on the Mount of Olives, near the Arab A-Tur neighborhood.
The $250-a-plate dinner, hosted by American Friends of Beit Orot, was expected to raise at least $75,000 for the yeshiva, which according to its Web site, “is at once defending the sacred traditions of our nation, the physical security of Eretz Yisrael and the integrity of Yerushalayim as the undivided capital of Israel and the Jewish people.”
In other words, the Yeshiva is part of the settler campaign to Judaise East Jerusalem and eventually render it Arab-rein. Once again, it is part of explicit U.S. policy that there be a two state solution to the conflict in which East Jerusalem will become the Palestinian capital. This type of needlessly provocative behavior is meant to derail such peace efforts and directly contradicts our government’s policy.
Ynetnews covered a Peace Now demonstration against the building efforts by the Yeshiva which all points to the fact that these efforts to cleanse East Jerusalem of Arabs runs counter to professed U.S. and Israeli policy:
“In the past few weeks and every few days, the Jerusalem Municipality has been swiftly promoting provocative construction plans in the heart of Palestinian neighborhoods in the eastern part of the city,” Peace Now Secretary-General Yariv Oppenheimer told Ynet.
“This should bother anyone supporting a two-state solution. Beit Orot is a provocation by the extreme Right and its implementation will cause great diplomatic damage.“
If this is true, how can Ori Nir, Eric Yoffie and any American Jew who supports a two state solution not see the great damage that pro-settler funding groups do here in this country too, and finally jump on the bandwagon against their tax-exempt status?
H/t to Didi Remez.