A number of progressive Jewish bloggers have been shreying for years (it feels like) about both the violent extremism of American Jewish groups favoring Israel’s settler movement AND about the fact that these groups like the Hebron Fund, Central Fund of Israel, and Z Street, also harshly oppose U.S. policy regarding the settlements. We’ve been shouting about the abuse of the 501c3 tax code which compels U.S. citizens to subsidize tax deductions for these groups.
Now, apparently, the IRS has quietly taken notice. The execrable Z Street, founded as a rip-off parody of J Street, applied for non-profit status last December and, according to Z Street, was told by the IRS that its application was being reviewed by a special office establishing to review the status of such extremist groups. Ben Smith reports that an Arab-American activist informed him that there is a similar office for Arab-American groups. So finally, the American Jewish haters are getting the same treatment as the Arabs.
It’s about time that these extremist groups receive such scrutiny. If the government can sue Arab groups like the Holyland Foundation, why not deny tax-deductible status to groups raising funds to buy guns for settlers? Group which advocate assassinating Palestinian leaders and hanging Israeli prime ministers? Groups which support settlers who kill Palestinian civilians with impunity? Groups funding the theft of Palestinian buildings and land? Groups funding the Judaization of East Jerusalem?
Now Z Street is suing the government to force it to grant the status and return the process to status quo ante. If they fail, and God I hope they do, the government I expect will deny the application. But that is small potatoes, since the ability of Z Street either to raise money or effect the policy debate is minimal. The real target are the big guys at Hebron Fund and CFI, who’ve raised scores of millions for settlements. I’d predict that in a year we may face the real battle, which will be to revoke the 501c3 status of these groups. When you start going after Irving Moskowitz, then you’re really making a serious dent in the settler funding apparatus.
In this context, it’s also important to note the recent decision by the Houston federation and John Hagee to defund Im Tirzu. Hagee’s gift received a U.S. tax deduction by virtue of it being passed through the federation and Jewish Agency. Such new IRS scutiny puts Jewish federations and potential funders of settler groups on notice that gifts that contravene U.S. policy will receive special scrutiny. Given Im Tirzu’s outrageous assault on Israeli democracy and academic freedom, it can’t be hard to argue convincingly that the group opposes U.S. policy toward Israel. If such donors are prepared to face this scrutiny (thankfully the Houston federation wasn’t), they will perhaps consider putting their money into more mainstream projects. And if they’re prepared to withstand the glare of the public, then let us have a debate about the goals of their philanthropy and its impact on both U.S. policy and the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.
Those who haven’t been reading our blogs will think mistakenly that the Forward and N.Y. Times first brought these issues to the government’s attention. In truth, it was bloggers and peace activists who took up this cause long before the MSM got to it. Certainly, the government didn’t take action because of us. The Times gets the IRS’ attention. But without those who took up the issue first there would’ve been no Times story.
It’s also worth noting that former IRS officials are quoted by the Forward doubting there is such an office reviewing the Z Street application. Which means Z Street may just be using the courts to toot their own horn and gain publicity by fightin’ the Man. No American rightist, whether Jewish or non-Jewish, has ever lost favor by taking on the mean old federal government. And given the Obama administration’s purported anti-Israel slant it may be part of Z Street’s strategy to file suit in order to publicize its differences with the administration.