American Jews who defend Israel, it seems, have much to not be happy about this Thanksgiving Day. In a major Politico article, writer Ben Smith writes that Z Street, a hawkish pro-Israel group that consciously bills itself as an alternative to the leftist J Street, reveals that the IRS may be targeting pro-Israel groups for seeking a tax exemption, solely on the grounds of their position. Writes Smith about the proposed query of an unnamed religious group that has no expressed position on Israel:
“Does your organization support the existence of the land of Israel?” IRS agent Tracy Dornette wrote the organization, according to this week’s court filing, as part of its consideration of the organizations application for tax exempt status. “Describe your organization’s religious belief system toward the land of Israel.
The document emerged in the course of a lawsuit filed in August by Z Street, a hawkish group that casts itself as the Zionist answer to the liberal J Street. Z Street claims that a different IRS agent reviewing its application for tax exempt status said the agency is “carefully scrutinizing organizations that are in any way connected with Israel” and that “a special unit” is determining whether its activities “contradict the Administration’s public policies.”
Let us pause at that last line — does the organization’s work “contradict the Administration’s public policies”? Imagine if the Reagan administration had scrutinized an anti-apartheid group because its demands for the economic boycott of South Africa contradicted the administration’s preference for quiet diplomacy? Frank Rich would be yelling his head off in the Sunday New York Times, Peter Beinart would be writing about the administration’s perfidy in The Daily Beast, and Hendrik Hertzberg would be pontificating loudly in the “Talk of the Town” lead column in next week’s New Yorker. I suspect that next week we will see nothing about this at all in their future contributions.
The IRS, of course, is supposed to investigate tax evasion — not to use its powers to punish groups or individuals who dissent from administration policy. And what is this so-called “special unit”? In my previous blog post, I wrote about how leftist think tanks are advising the Obama administration to use its executive powers to advance their agenda by bypassing Congress and ignoring the people’s will. Is this an example of this suggestion being put to use in a novel way?
In this case, the IRS evidently wants to deny the group’s filing for a tax exemption — an exemption regularly given to non-profit organizations. But the only grounds for this, it seems from the provided evidence, is the group’s differences with the Obama administration’s favored position, which the IRS seems to see as distancing itself from Israel. Of course, the administration’s flunkies constantly deny that the administration is doing this, and its spokesmen continually give lip service to its 100 per cent dedication to the special American-Israeli alliance.
Most tax experts queried by Smith find the question troubling: “‘The claims go far beyond what should be the IRS’s role,’ said Paul Caron, a University of Cincinnati law professor and the author of TaxProf Blog.” And another tax expert thought the question could be construed as pertinent if the religious group was seeking tax exemption and was in fact engaging in policy proposals and political pressure. But even that expert thought the form in which the IRS agent raised the issue was “not the way I would want any of my agents to do it.” Even the former IRS commissioner, Sheldon Cohen, called the specific question “unusual.”
What must now be publicly investigated — more work, perhaps, for Rep. Darrell Issa, likely the new chairman of the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee — is, as Z Street put it, whether or not the IRS is “improperly considering the political viewpoint of applicants” and engaging in “clear viewpoint discrimination.”
If the administration and the Democrats really want such investigations, let’s get them on!