Does the IRS believe that support for Israel is support for terrorism?

By Dan Epstein   Published May 16, 2013   

In the wake of recent scandal arising from the Internal Revenue Service’s (IRS) targeting of social welfare groups for their political beliefs, little has been said about the fact that the IRS also scrutinized several pro-Israel organizations, including Z Street, an organization that applied for 501(c)(3) status.

According to Politico, Z Street was targeted by the IRS because “applications mentioning Israel were getting special attention.”

Another group 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.”

The supposed justification for such questions: “the government shouldn’t bestow a benefit on an individual or organization engaged in illegal activity like terrorism.”

It’s not merely problematic that the IRS’ questions are woefully under-inclusive with regards to preventing the funding of terrorism – indeed they simply equate being in support of Israel (Zionism) as terrorism, which is less a statement about concerns against promoting terrorism than a reflection of patent anti-Semitism.

These questions are also overly inclusive to the degree of violating protected expression, hinting that the IRS sought to discriminate against those groups that held certain religious beliefs – whatever the form.  (If there’s any question as to the anti-Semitism here, simply look at Jeffrey Goldberg’s tweet on a recent Al Jazeera article which equates Zionism with anti-Semitism).

But government myopia has lurked behind state-sanctioned discrimination throughout history.

To illustrate, Jon Waddell, manager of the IRS’s Exempt Organizations Determinations Group stated “Israel is one of many Middle Eastern countries that have a ‘higher risk of terrorism’… A referral… is appropriate whenever an application mentions providing resources to organizations in a country with a higher risk of terrorism.” Higher risk compared to whom? Libya? Afghanistan?

The idea that supporting Israel is equitable to supporting terrorism is not only racist, it’s false.

The State Department has designated only four countries to be “State Sponsors of Terrorism” – Cuba, Iran, Sudan, and Syria — and in its most recent report on Mideast terrorism, Israel was identified by the State Department as “a resolute counterterrorism partner in 2011.”

Far from being a country whose support constitutes a higher risk of terrorism, the State Department holds the opposite: “Israel faced terrorist threats from Hamas, the Popular Resistance Committees, and Palestinian Islamic Jihad (PIJ), particularly from Gaza but also from the West Bank, and from Hizballah in Lebanon.”

No citizens of Israel are listed on the FBI’s terrorism watch list, but the majority of those who are listed share one thing in common: being anti-Israel.

The idea that the IRS’s targeting of American pro-Israel groups had any sound basis in public policy is not only inaccurate, but has never been justified by U.S. policy, and hopefully never will be.

To give a sense of why the IRS’s anti-Semitism is also dangerous as a policy matter, consider those groups and funding schemes that the IRS has failed to scrutinize in the name of public policy.

On May 30, 2010, the Freedom Flotilla, led by the pro-Hamas Free Gaza Movement, incited violence and the death of nine people in an attempt to defy Israeli law.

The flotilla was funded by the Free Gaza Movement,  which is a project that the IRS has allowed to receive tax-deductible contributions through an IRS-approved financial sponsor, the American Educational Trust, a 501(c)(4) based in Washington, D.C. Apparently fundraising for enemies of the United States is not the type of red flag that concerns the IRS.

Indeed, as another example, consider that the International Solidarity Movement, which has ties to Hamas and Islamic Jihad, receives tax-deductible contributions through its financial supporter, the A.J. Muste Memorial Institute, an IRS-designated 501(c)(3) charity.

So we have an IRS that willfully prevents the free exercise of American groups that support a country that has been a “resolute counterterrorism partner” of the United States since its inception and yet an IRS that has supported entities which have funded the pro-terrorism Free Gaza Movement and International Solidarity Movement.

If only this was a regrettable moment of anti-Semitism in the country with the world’s oldest Constitution committed to liberal democracy.  But, sadly, it presents a much deeper problem: an administration that has convinced its agencies that violating freedom in contexts that have no rational relationship to the prevention of terrorism, is, indeed, good policy for America.

Dan Epstein, executive director, Cause of Action, a non-profit, nonpartisan government accountability organization.