Thursday, Apr 18, 2024

IRS Targeted Pro – Israel Groups First

A year before the IRS tax exempt unit in Cincinnati began targeting applications from conservative political action groups for tax exempt status to extended delays and overly invasive scrutiny, it was using the same tactics against American Jewish groups, with the explicit intention of withholding tax exempt status from those supporting Israel in general, and any Jewish presence in the West Bank and Yerushalayim in particular. When the lawyer for a Pennsylvania-based pro-Israel group known as Z Street asked Diane Gentry, the IRS agent in charge of the case, what happened to Z Street's application for tax-exempt status, she told him that it had “been at least delayed, and may be denied because of a special IRS policy in place regarding organizations in any way connected with Israel, and further that the applications of many such Israel-related organizations have been assigned to ‘a special unit in the D.C. office.'” He was also told that the criteria used by the IRS “special unit” to determine whether tax exempt status should be granted was whether the group's activities “contradict the Administration's public policies,” meaning opposition to any Jewish presence in the West Bank and Yerushalayim.

After Z Street filed a federal lawsuit against the IRS in 2010. Its lawyer found that at least five other American Jewish organizations had been audited by the IRS. Some of the groups had no Zionist connections, yet they were still asked very intrusive questions about the religious beliefs of their members and their attitudes towards Israel.


One Jewish group applying for tax exemption which never had any publicly stated political positions regarding Israel was asked by the IRS, “Does your organization support the existence of the land of Israel? Describe your organization’s religious belief system towards the land of Israel.”


When these groups began to complain about being subjected to such scrutiny, the IRS changed its story. Its officials denied that the IRS had a “special group” targeting all Israel-related groups. The new IRS justification for asking such questions was: “the government shouldn’t bestow a benefit on an individual or organization engaged in illegal activity like terrorism.”




Jon Waddell, the manager of the IRS’s Exempt Organizations Determinations Group explained it as follows: “Israel is one of many Middle Eastern countries that have a ‘higher risk of terrorism’… A referral [for added scrutiny]… is appropriate whenever an application mentions providing resources to organizations in a country with a higher risk of terrorism.”


According to that logic, any group operating in New York City, or Boston, should also be subjected to greater IRS scrutiny because of the recent history of terrorist attacks in those cities.


This stated IRS terrorist explanation is absurd because it fails to discriminate between the perpetrators of terror and their victims. Israel does not appear on the official US list of countries which support terrorism, but rather, the vast majority of Islamic terrorists in the world are known to share the common trait of hatred for Israel. In fact, the US State Department in its most recent report on Middle East terrorism, calls Israel “a resolute counterterrorism partner” of the United States. That official government attitude should make pro-Israel groups the last ones the IRS suspect of supporting terrorism.


In addition, if the IRS is truly concerned about American non-profit groups which support terrorism, why has it not challenged the tax exempt status of two American groups which fund the Free Gaza Movement and the International Solidarity Movement, organizations which actively support Hamas, which is listed by the US government as a terrorist organization?




There is another problem with the questions that the IRS has asked the Jewish groups it has audited. If the official IRS explanation that it is looking for terrorism is to be accepted at face value, then the questions imply that any belief in the religious significance of the land of Israel or support for it indicates a potential involvement in terrorism. If true, that is a level of anti-Semitism which goes a giant step beyond the notorious 1976 UN General Assembly resolution equating Zionism with racism.


Jerome Marcus, the attorney who prepared the lawsuit for Z Street against the IRS, says that the IRS investigations into these Jewish groups have been guilty of “viewpoint discrimination” in violation of the First Amendment right of free speech and the freedom of religion. He argues that it is fundamentally inappropriate for any government agency to inquire into a person’s religious beliefs as the basis for making policy-based decisions.


It is now widely accepted that the questions which IRS auditors were later to ask Tea Party and other conservative groups about their political beliefs were inappropriate for the same reason.




The Israel-related IRS crackdown was not limited to Jewish groups. It also extended to Christian missionary groups which support, for their own religious reasons, the Jewish presence throughout the land of Israel. The founders of one such organization based in Tennessee called HaYovel, applied for tax exempt status in 2010. Then, after a long delay, they received an unusual phone call from the IRS demanding an immediate audit of their records during the week of legal holidays at the end of December, when most government offices are all but shut down.


The IRS treatment of HaYovel is significant because it reveals the true nature of the political motivation behind the audits and delays encountered by the Jewish groups as well.


Tommy Waller, one of the missionary group’s founders says, “We 100-percent support Judea and Samaria, and Jewish sovereignty in that area, and the current administration is 100 percent opposed to Jewish sovereignty in that area of Israel. That’s why we suspected that we would have to deal with [an audit].




Waller believes that the trigger for the audit was a 5,000 word front page story published by the New York Times on July 5, 2010 which mentioned HaYovel along with several Jewish groups which support the Jewish claim to the West Bank, and challenged their right to receive tax exempt status.


The story was an obvious White House plant, meant to buttress public support for Obama’s controversial public demands that the Israeli government impose a freeze on all new Jewish construction throughout the West Bank and East Yerushalayim.


The article quoted an unnamed “senior State Department official” calling the activities of such groups “a problem” for the Obama administration and “unhelpful to the efforts that we’re trying to make,” meaning the demand for a construction freeze. The story also quoted by name Obama Middle East adviser Daniel Kurtzer, saying the pro-West Bank groups “drove us crazy.”


One week later, J Street, the liberal Jewish lobbying group which was set up as a left-wing alternative to AIPAC and the Presidents Conference, and which has been very supportive of the Obama administration called for an investigation into all US charities that support the West Bank settlements.


Two weeks after the article appeared in the NY Times, Z Street was audited by the IRS.


The New York Times story was not the start of the White House public relations effort to discredit pro-West Bank groups, both Jewish and non-Jewish. It started on .March 26, 2009, with a column in the Washington Post by David Ignatius which questioned the right of pro-West Bank settlement groups to tax-exempt status.




That was about the same time that Obama decided to make renewing the Israeli-Palestinian peace talks his major first foreign policy achievement, and that he would achieve that goal by pressuring Israel’s newly elected prime minister, Binyomin Netanyahu, into agreeing to Palestinian demands to a total settlement construction freeze. It was the first in a series of serious missteps by Obama over the settlement issue which damaged US relations with Israel and hampered rather than assisted the effort to restart the peace negotiations.


The day after the Washington Post story appeared, the American-Arab Anti-Discrimination Committee (ADC), which enjoyed close ties to the Obama White House, announced that it would file complaints to the IRS and the Treasury Department and demand the investigation of all groups “allegedly raising funds for the development of illegal settlements in the occupied West Bank.”


In October 2009 the ADC announced that it was “working with a number of coalition partners, both nationally and internationally, in conducting this ongoing campaign.” against all pro-Israel charities.


At about the same time, the chief negotiator for the Palestinian Authority also complained about the tax exempt status of American groups supporting the West Bank settlements to US Consul General Daniel Rubenstein.




The IRS “special treatment” of pro-Israel groups appears to be a direct outgrowth of Obama’s all-out campaign during his first two years in the White House, to pressure the Israeli government into declaring a ban on West Bank settlements using all available tools. While the White House campaign to demonize the West Bank settlements and their supporters in the media as “an obstacle to peace,” was open and public, IRS officials sought to hide the motive for the sinister campaign to intimidate and harass pro-Israel groups under the false pretense of combating terrorism.


Most of the Jewish groups which were targeted by the IRS were too intimidated to join the few like Z Street which protested against the campaign and publicly condemned it as a violation of fundamental constitutional rights. The largely unsubstantiated complaints generated little press coverage. The media accepted the lame IRS explanations at face value and moved on. The incident was all but forgotten until the scandal over the much larger IRS campaign against conservative political groups blew up in the headlines last month. The IRS used many of the same bullying and delaying tactics against the Tea Party and conservative groups that it had employed earlier against the pro-Israel groups.


The two IRS scandals have many similarities. For example, they coincided with a White House campaign in the media to demonize the same political target.




Congressional committees and the media are still hot on the trail of the IRS story, which is still slowly unfolding. Obama’s newly appointed IRS head, Danny Werfel, told a House Ways and Means subcommittee Monday that he was determined to find out who had authorized the “BOLO” campaign targeting applications from Tea Party and politically conservative groups for tax exemption for delays and harsh treatment. “I’m prepared to follow the facts wherever they take us,” he said. “I think it’s the only way to restore the trust” of the American people in the IRS. He also promised to quickly clear the backlog of 160 applications by conservative groups for tax exemption, including one which was submitted almost 3 years ago, which have still not been resolved.


Pro-Obama advocates are trying to push back at allegations that the White House was ultimately behind the IRS policy targeting conservative groups. Their problem is that the original White House story, that the scandal was due to actions by low level “rogue” employees in the Cincinnati IRS office, was thoroughly discredited when the IRS officials who were in charge at the time could not name any of those alleged “rogue” agents, and evidence surfaced that other IRS offices were doing the same thing, too. It got worse when the two men Obama had appointed to run the IRS claimed total ignorance or amnesia when asked under oath who was responsible, and the woman who directly supervised the Cincinnati unit took the Fifth Amendment after declaring her own innocence of any wrongdoing.




IRS employees at the Cincinnati office have now told congressional investigators that they were following orders “from Washington” when they subjected conservative groups to special scrutiny. They also said that the conservative targeting program had been “micro-managed” by their superiors.


A new report by its Inspector General shows that the IRS spent $50 million on 220 lavish conferences for its employees between 2010 and 2012, using funds that were supposed to pay for tax law enforcement. This has silenced those who claimed that the IRS scandal was at least partially due to inadequate congressional funding for the agency’s operations


More conservative groups which were victimized by the IRS campaign are now coming forward to tell their stories before congressional committees and news cameras, while Republicans continue to demand that everyone responsible be exposed and held accountable, no matter how high in the administration that trail may lead.


The unanswered questions about the scandal have begun to have an impact in the national opinion polls. Obama’s popularity has fallen to a new low for his second term, and 66% of Americans now say that they “disapprove of the way that the IRS is doing its job.


As public interest in the IRS scandals continues to rise with each new revelation, the White House and its allies are becoming increasingly desperate to avoid direct blame and discredit their accusers as politically motivated and/or corrupt themselves, but so far their efforts haven’t worked.




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