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

Syria’s Downing of a Russian Plane Put Israel in the Crosshairs

Sept. 21 2018

On Monday, Israeli jets fired missiles at an Iranian munitions storehouse in the northwestern Syrian city of Latakia. Shortly thereafter, Syrian personnel shot down a Russian surveillance plane with surface-to-air missiles, in what seems to be a botched and highly incompetent response to the Israeli attack. Moscow first responded by blaming Jerusalem for the incident, but President Putin then offered more conciliatory statements. Yesterday, Russian diplomats again stated that Israel was at fault. Yoav Limor comments:

What was unusual [about the Israeli] strike was the location: Latakia [is] close to Russian forces, in an area where the IDF hasn’t been active for some time. The strike itself was routine; the IDF notified the Russian military about it in advance, the missiles were fired remotely, the Israeli F-16s returned to base unharmed, and as usual, Syrian antiaircraft missiles were fired indiscriminately in every direction, long after the strike itself was over. . . .

Theoretically, this is a matter between Russia and Syria. Russia supplied Syria with the SA-5 [missile] batteries that wound up shooting down its plane, and now it must demand explanations from Syria’s President Bashar al-Assad. That won’t happen; Russia was quick to blame Israel for knocking over the first domino, and as usual, sent conflicting messages that make it hard to parse its future strategy. . . .

From now on, Russia will [almost certainly] demand a higher level of coordination with Israel and limits on the areas in which Israel can attack, and possibly a commitment to refrain from certain actions. Syria, Iran, and Hizballah will try to drag Russia into “handling” Israel and keeping it from continuing to carry out strikes in the region. Israel . . . will blame Iran, Hizballah, and Syria for the incident, and say they are responsible for the mess.

But Israel needs to take rapid action to minimize damage. It is in Israel’s strategic interest to keep up its offensive actions to the north, mainly in Syria. If that action is curtailed, Israel’s national security will be compromised. . . . No one in Israel, and certainly not in the IDF or the Israel Air Force, wants Russia—which until now hasn’t cared much about Israel’s actions—to turn hostile, and Israel needs to do everything to prevent that from happening. Even if that means limiting its actions for the time being. . . . Still, make no mistake: Russia is angry and has to explain its actions to its people. Israel will need to walk a thin line between protecting its own security interests and avoiding a very unwanted clash with Russia.

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More about: Hizballah, Israel & Zionism, Israeli Security, Russia, Syrian civil war