Using the Tax Code to Punish Settlements: Vindictive, Illiberal, and Unconstitutional

Oct. 10 2016

The self-styled “pro-Israel, pro-peace” lobbying group J Street and its allies are pushing for the Treasury Department to investigate the tax-exempt status of charities that provide aid to Jews living in the West Bank. As Eugene Kontorovich explains, such a move would violate the Constitution and set a pernicious precedent—and is based on completely unfounded presumptions about the settlements:

While J Street claims that its demand is justified on the grounds that private Americans’ support for settlements contravenes “established public policy,” J Street is calling for the administration to do something unprecedented and clearly unconstitutional. To put it simply, J Street et al. are asking that some non-profits be denied tax exemptions because they disagree with the president on diplomatic matters. That’s what going against ”public policy” means here—not violating any statutes, but pursuing goals at odds with the foreign policy of the president. . . .

In its effort to find a legal basis for its illiberal campaign, the most J Street can invoke in favor of its claim of a clear “public policy” is political statements [about West Bank settlements] from the executive branch, and a non-binding and long-rejected 1979 letter from a State Department legal adviser. But as frustrating as this may be to J Street, there is no U.S. law or clearly established U.S. policy which indicates that settlements are illegal. . . .

A State Department memo is not a law or even an agency regulation. . . . No official has ever mistaken the memo for a legal enactment; indeed, a mere two years after the 1979 letter, President Reagan announced that settlements are lawful, and presidential administrations in the 35 years since then have studiously avoided expressing any opinion on the lawfulness of settlements. Meanwhile Congress has passed numerous laws—which do establish U.S. law and policy—that clearly show Israeli settlements are not illegal. . . .

Worse yet for J Street is the fact that even if there were a U.S. policy that Israeli settlement construction violates international law, that policy would have nothing to do with U.S. citizens supporting libraries, schools, and other services in those communities. . . . Most anti-settlement scholars are forced to concede that settlers themselves do not violate international law. . . . And just as certainly there is nothing in the Carter-era State Department letter that claims that charitable contributions by Americans to settlements violate the law. . . .

J Street’s call for a tax inquisition is authoritarian, anti-democratic, unconstitutional, arbitrary, vindictive, and, to put it delicately, uncharitably focused on the Jews.

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More about: Constitution, Israel & Zionism, J Street, Settlements, U.S. Foreign policy

For Israelis, Anti-Zionism Kills

Dec. 14 2018

This week alone, anti-Zionists have killed multiple Israelis in a series of attacks; these follow the revelations that Hizballah succeeded in digging multiple attack tunnels from Lebanon into northern Israel. Simultaneously, some recent news stories in the U.S. have occasioned pious reminders that anti-Zionism should not be conflated with anti-Semitism. Bret Stephens notes that it is anti-Zionists, not defenders of Israel, who do the most to blur that distinction:

Israelis experience anti-Zionism in a different way from, say, readers of the New York Review of Books: not as a bold sally in the world of ideas, but as a looming menace to their earthly existence, held at bay only through force of arms. . . . Anti-Zionism might have been a respectable point of view before 1948, when the question of Israel’s existence was in the future and up for debate. Today, anti-Zionism is a call for the elimination of a state—details to follow regarding the fate befalling those who currently live in it. . . .

Anti-Zionism is ideologically unique in insisting that one state, and one state only, doesn’t just have to change. It has to go. By a coincidence that its adherents insist is entirely innocent, this happens to be the Jewish state, making anti-Zionists either the most disingenuous of ideologues or the most obtuse. When then-CNN contributor Marc Lamont Hill called last month for a “free Palestine from the river to the sea” and later claimed to be ignorant of what the slogan really meant, it was hard to tell in which category he fell.

Does this make someone with Hill’s views an anti-Semite? It’s like asking whether a person who believes in [the principle of] separate-but-equal must necessarily be a racist. In theory, no. In reality, another story. The typical aim of the anti-Semite is legal or social discrimination against some set of Jews. The explicit aim of the anti-Zionist is political or physical dispossession.

What’s worse: to be denied membership in a country club because you’re Jewish, or driven from your ancestral homeland and sovereign state for the same reason? If anti-Semitism and anti-Zionism are meaningfully distinct (I think they are not), the human consequences of the latter are direr.

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More about: Anti-Semitism, Anti-Zionism, Hizballah, Israel & Zionism, Palestinian terror